Backlash Against New Business Paradigm?

Are We Practitioners "Walking Our Own Talk"?

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

There is a recent explosion of management literature, much of which asserts the strong need for change in today's business organizations. Few people, if any, disagree with this need for change. However, the unrealistic and evangelical manner in which this need is presented may be causing cynicism not lived since the Roman Empire.

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Growing Cynicism in Management

We live and work in a fascinating, yet fearful time. Changes in the foundation laws of physics, an explosion of global telecommunications and various crises in our culture force us to adopt a “new paradigm,” a new way of looking at our world and our work. Change is now our mantra.

To be more adaptable, organizations are decentralizing. To be more responsive, organizations are reorganizing around flatter structures. To be more competitive, organizations are implementing customer-driven instead of industry-driven strategies.

Increased public consciousness is forcing business to be more socially responsible. Some business ethics writers assert that business is the last bastion of hope to save the Earth because education and government are failing at this responsibility. Some propose a new social contract between management and its employees, a new “covenant.”

We're reinventing our government and re-engineering our corporations. In preparation for the “New Millennium,” we're reclaiming our souls, our cities and our nights. And we may be cultivating an age of cynicism not lived since the Roman Empire.

These changes with the new paradigm are badly needed. However, much of today’s management literature in support of these changes is taking on an evangelical tone, leaving behind many readers who wonder if society’s visions for business are realistic and how such changes are to come about. I'm concerned there may soon be a backlash against the needed new paradigm, particularly from leaders and managers -- those charged to implement our high-reaching visions.

Research indicates a growing cynicism in today’s management. Management guru, Peter Senge, suggests that cynics are disillusioned idealists. This invites us to ask ourselves, “How much of leaders’ and managers’ cynicism results from unrealistic and conflicting expectations -- ours and theirs?”

Society’s (including Practitioners') Increasingly Unrealistic Expectations of Management and Workers

We act as if we’re somehow separate from business, on some higher moral ground. We view business much as we view "the government" -- something apart from us that uses (as one local newspaper columnist recently referred to as) “secret weapons” that hurt us. Our blaming further alienates leaders and managers from us and from themselves. And it produces defensiveness, rather than cooperation.

We Demand Perfection of Businesses

Our quest for perfection leads us too quickly to forget the accomplishments of mortal beings. Our approach to evaluating the performances of our leaders, managers and employees has them feeling as if they're working on a tightrope without a net. Once they fall, it's over. We don’t remember a company's percentage-contribution-to-charity, but we remember that a previous employee once bribed a government official. Our reluctance to forgive and fickleness of attention result in denial, confusion and loss of meaning among all of us.

We Demand Perfection Now

Businesses must remain financially viable while heroically transforming themselves to cultivate highly moral employees who are always fulfilled. Consider the following quotes from management book reviews: "...and how can we change our system so that everyone has the opportunity to engage in dignified and satisfying work, fully meeting basic human needs?" "We need to learn to bring the spirit of wakefulness and loving kindness to every act." These expectations must be posed very carefully.

Our Focus on Business as Savior and Devil Leaves Us as Hypocrites

We expect management to employ workers permanently, to honor the covenant. Yet we conclude that it’s perfectly reasonable for any of these workers to leave their jobs once they find better pay or benefits elsewhere. Where’s the covenant then? This double standard hurts the credibility of our expectations, and increases ambivalence in leaders and managers -- and ourselves.

Leaders and Consultants Too Often Oversell New Programs

New programs are presented as if they are “silver bullets” geared to save the day. After committed managers work countless hours to coax a passion for the new program, the program quietly takes its place in history with little recognition or explanation, superseded by the next silver bullet. Later, these same managers appear incapable of hopping in when the next "rescue boat" comes along. These committed managers often go on to become the most cynical members of the organization.

It's Tragic to Deem Past Programs as "Fads"

Did we benefit from quality circles or management by objectives? From the tone of some of today’s management literature, one would think these techniques were bitter mistakes. A recent article in a local publication lamented the failure of Total Quality Management (TQM). TQM, along with many other management innovations, works when it’s used realistically for its intended application.

We Practitioners Must Change Our Approach to Change -- Evangelism Isn't for Everybody

Our unrealistic and conflicting expectations of leaders and managers set up internal conflicts that make their jobs increasingly difficult, considering the many other issues they must deal with, such as the complexity of today's technologies, changing values and demographics, and increased regulations. As these almost impossible working conditions persist, leaders and managers wonder more about what they're doing wrong than what they can do right. They become autocratic machines or detached cynics. We must work together to help.

We Practitioners Must Change Our Approach to Change -- Work with Managers, Not Against Them

Thomas Moore, in “Care of the Soul,” suggests that, rather than seeking transcendence or perfection, we seek integration and meaning. We need to appreciate what we have and be much more realistic about the time and energy needed for change.

We Must Present Approaches Useful in the Day-to-Day Reality of an Organization

For example, we've read about the apparent business ethics "crisis." Yet there is little ongoing information about how to manage ethics in the workplace. If there was as much of this type of information [balance of article to be restored as soon as possible].

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