Think of an Organization as an Engine that Powers Production

In my last entry, I discussed organizational dysfunction using a metaphor of beaver dams and described a deep-seated, even dominate, aspect of human and organizational behavior: self-interest. This behavior is fundamental to understanding one of the reasons that businesses and enterprises perform so dismally. The metaphor of the beaver dams is apt in illustrating organizational dysfunction created by self-interest.  Alternatively, it is desirable to find a metaphor that evokes a mental image of the power of a finely tuned organization.

Think of an organization as an engine that powers production.

Engines provide power to automobiles, airplanes, ships, motorcycles, you name it.  We all understand what engines do; they power our very lives and affect virtually everything we do.  Just as there is substantial diversity in kinds of organizations there are many types of engines, such as electric motors, gas, diesel, jet engines, ram jets, rockets, and many more. Each is designed for its specific application and need. They all have one essential purpose; to power the things we do every day.

Organizations are very similar to engines in our professional lives.  Regardless if it is in business, academia, military, or government, the organization is supposed to produce a desired outcome. Organizations power all of these, large and small, complex and simple, old and new.

We all recognize that many organizations do not do this very well. Some are more like a lawn mower engine than a car engine in the performance they deliver.  Those with a functioning car engine, badly require a tune up, or even an overhaul.  It is as if they are running on three cylinders; need maintenance, new parts, upgraded technology, better driver technique, and other attention.  Some organizational designs are ill-suited for their intended purpose, a lawn mower engine trying to power a rocket.

The evidence of dysfunction is abundant: terrible service, low efficiency, poor effectiveness, lost customers, lost productivity, lost sales, low profits, high turnover, low employee morale, lack of planning, high organizational "churn", and outright organizational failures are wide spread.

This need not be the rule though; it doesn't have to be this difficult to maintain a good organizational engine.  The factors of success and how to bring them together are well known in the body of knowledge associated with organizational behavior and business management and leadership.  If so, why is the art and science of putting these things together not producing well running organizations?

The answer is rather straightforward. While it's simple to fix an organization on a conceptual-level the required behavior changes are more complex than it first appears.  In this way it is very similar to losing weight.  How do I lose weight?  Eat less and exercise more.  Simple, right?  Yes, at that level of understanding, but tough to do when faced with all the temptations of daily life.  Achieving results require us to actually do the right things, and do them consistently and correctly.   Just as with an organization, the silver lining is achieving weight-loss results are not complex in the sense that it's difficult to understand.  There are no "secrets", no arcane formulas, no mysterious dynamics, no unfathomable causes; it's all easy to grasp if done in bite size pieces.  Then you actually have to do it correctly and keep working at it, day after day.

So how do we break all of this (and more) down to manageably sized parts, understand it all, and most importantly do something about it?  Are the issues too big and complicated to resolve and has everything that matters about leadership, management and organizations already been written?  Is every voice in the discussion of equal credibility?  This blog will do all of that and more over time.  With your feedback and suggestions we’ll shine a light in virtually every corner of the beaver dams and put a state of the art diagnostic computer on the engine we call organizations.

In the next blog we’ll discuss the major components of organizational performance.  Much more to follow. 

Many thanks, Keith Stalder, #2

Copyright © 2013 Keith Stalder & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.