Monday, 16 January 2012

Agile and empowered

Anyone working in a large organisation for a couple of  decades will see patterns of recurrent nonsense.  This decade is no different from any other, and we see many of the old traits re-emerging for another airing.

As a naive young engineer I always assumed that the senior management of every organisation had risen to its position of power through some sort of meritocracy.  These must be the people who we should look up to.  They must be the most able managers, the best communicators, and they must surely have the wisdom and technical knowledge to judge better from worse in the industry that they lead.

Sadly - whatever anyone will tell you - this rarely seems to be the case.  Without wishing to question their 'integrity' in any way it seems that the main requirement of the (increasingly overpaid**) directors in UK is to be able to recognise their own limitations.  Yes - they actually get paid for doing this!

And they actually get bonuses for failing too.  Having recognised their weaknesses they have to be able to choose the appropriate management consultants and bring them in to 'look at the big picture' for the company and in a 'cost neutral' way make a 'business case' for change, by 'evolution not revolution'.

These (even more highly paid) consultants brandish expressions such as 'agility', 'synergy' and 'empowerment'. They encourage you to generate a 'mission statement', and to 'cascade' their learning through the organisation, seeking 'enablers' to motivate and 'engage' the staff.  'Thinking outside the box' they identify the 'fast track' to 'diversification' but still make sure not to expand the 'core business'.  'Revisiting' the old accusations of 'silo mentality',  'facilitating change' and implementing 'knowledge management' they seek a 'strategic fit' with 'partner organisations',  'ring-fencing' areas of work and 'outsourcing' according to the 'game plan'.

The strangest thing is that the experts genuinely do not know how risible their teachings are.  If you use the word 'agile' in front of the board of directors it gains you 'traction'.  They all nod their heads sagely and agree that their organisation should have that characteristic.

But use the word 'agile' in front of the ordinary employees and and you will find that (generally) they have the wisdom not to laugh at you - but they will do it behind your back.  They have seen this sort of thing happen before and they know to keep quiet (and then ignore it).

Most of them also knew that agility and empowerment would indeed be good things for the company.  Oddly enough, they knew this before they were taught by the consultants, (even if the directors did not).  They also know that it is very rare to find a workplace where the 'change management' actions are properly implemented, however often they have been promised.  Even if they 'go the extra mile'  the management will 'move the goal posts'.

Consultants come and consultants go.  They usually use the same concepts even if they use different name.  Rarely do they deliver what they promised, and when they fail they are never 'attributable'.

Plus ca change!

** Small note: Directors pay continues to advance rapidly while everyone else experiences a pay freeze because after all, these are times of austerity!

1 comment:

Derby Sceptic said...

And I thought I had seen the last of that management waffle in the 90's! I worked for a company then where management used all the buzz words to suggest they were worth their inflated salaries.

The disconcerting issue is the bonuses paid for failure - bad enough in private companies but in the banks that we as taxpayers largely own then failure should be rewarded with no bonuses and at least a freeze on pay if not reductions.