Archive for the ‘centre vs edge’ Category

The Governance of Quality

Monday, January 27th, 2014

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
Over a period of three years, 1994 to 1997, I consulted to an organisation providing residential care for men and women with mental health disabilities.  This was in the middle of the changes taking place in the UK to introduce ‘internal markets’ and the de-institutionalisation deemed necessary to providing ‘Care in the Community’.

The work was undertaken together with Barry Palmer[1], and presented at the 1997 ISPSO Annual Meeting in Philadelphia under the title The Architecture of Quality. The work established a way of enabling the organisation to adapt its work to this newly emerging environment in which the proactive pursuit of individuals’ care in the community could be put first.  It did this by tackling the north-south bias in the architecture of the organisation and establishing the need for asymmetric forms of leadership capable of realising east-west dominant forms of governance.[2]

By 2001, the CEO and senior management team of the organisation had left, and the organisation had begun reverting to its previous role as a provider of sheltered accommodation.  A more recent paper describes the subsequent events that led to this eventual outcome – The Governance of Quality. One response to this more recent paper would be to characterise the Trustees of the organisation as lacking courage.  But why should a Board of Trustees choose

  • innovating to deliver new levels of service to residents at lower cost while having to learn a whole lot of new ways of doing things, and
  • dealing with a whole lot of compliance issues for which historically they knew accountability could be reliably ‘delegated’, but would no longer be able to be ‘delegated’ so easily?

The Trustees chose the entirely reasonable alternative of running the traditional model of providing accommodation plus basic services under the auspices of housing provision.  The Trustees passed the test of whether the alternative they chose was “reasonable”: a reasonable person could not have been expected to choose otherwise.  But was this work we were engaged in together about what was reasonable? To quote the CEO:

I would not want to just look at the Trustees’ behaviour and motivation. I also resisted stepping beyond my know-how. I carried resistance while simultaneously espousing doing different. This is why I think the link to extreme sports is a useful one and perhaps to courage in general[3]. What is it to do the right thing? And how does one ‘know’? I think that ideas have been under-emphasised in any leadership framework. Instead, the emphasis has been on emotional intelligence which, while being important, is just not enough – being ‘good’ does not guarantee that things will work better!

Two kinds of learning emerged about the intervention from looking back at the process overall:

  1. There was a parallel process going on from the beginning, in which the CEO was receiving personal support in coping with how he took up this new role, support that had preceded his new role.  Having taken up the role as CEO, I was consulting to him concurrently with this other support, my task being to help him develop ways of tackling the leadership challenge he faced.  The splitting of these two aspects of support to the CEO – containing anxiety and innovating – paralleled the way support to the organisation was split between the governance task facing the Trustees and the leadership task facing the CEO. The full implications of this split did not become apparent until 2001.  Barry and I were not able to work the parallel process effectively.
  2. The envisioning of internal markets and de-institutionalisation was accompanied neither by any understanding of how the transition should be managed, nor by any support for the transition itself.  The rhetoric was that all this should be ‘left to the market’.  Even had we addressed the split in our consultation to the organisation, Trustees and Management together would have had to act very strategically to survive the disruptions to funding that would have arisen during the transition – a transition that is still ongoing!  This was because the economics of an east-west dominant organisation are both different to and more complex than those of the north-south dominant form.

But there was something more that we learnt, in that what we thought was the challenge of the case turned out to be much more of a challenge than we realised at the time…

  • Yes, the way the intervention unfolded was hugely particular to the situated nature of both us and the organisation;
  • Yes, both Trustees and Management needed courage, although possibly not as much courage as that of residents resisting being ‘parked’ in their lives by the (counter-resistance of the) existing organisation; and
  • Yes, we consultants needed to grasp the fundamentally different kind of economics that were being engendered by operating explicitly in a turbulent environment in which residents had to be responded to one-by-one.

But beyond all of that,

  • We consultants needed to recognise that what was being demanded of us in our way of working was a relationship to anxiety that involved our being prepared to ‘pay with our being’ – to go beyond what we knew and to put ourselves ‘on the line’.[4] That had to include our relationships with each other, through which the parallel process would have needed to be worked much further [5]

Which brings us back to the place of anxiety, our courage in all this and the different nature of the relationship to anxiety involved in innovation.[6]  Again to quote the CEO:

What I also know now is the investment I had in ego psychology, which Barry perhaps shared. Nailing the attitude to anxiety was one of the most important things noted in both versions of the paper. Any work had to be anchored to making it better for patients, a ‘work’ that we all had to have an investment in.

[1] Alongside the paper on The Architecture of Quality, other relevant papers by or with Barry are Meeting the Challenge of the Case (except that in retrospect, the challenge of this case was more than we thought at the time!), In which the Tavistock paradigm is considered as a discursive practice (thinking about how to situate the approaches associated with Barry’s role with the CEO as manifesting a particular form of discursive practice), and The Tavistock Paradigm: Inside, outside and beyond (laying the foundations for a new set of questions to which we are still trying to find adequate responses).
[2] Simon Western addresses these forms of leadership in his writing on eco-leadership.
[3] This is a reference to current thinking going on about the role of courage in overcoming defences against innovation – see the conclusion to Counter-resistance is always on the side of the supplier-provider.
[4] Which we had nevertheless formulated in 1994 in Meeting the Challenge of the Case, even if we hadn’t realised the extent of it.
[5] This comes up as a central issue in facing the future of the psychoanalytic study of organisations.
[6] This is to be the focus of a forthcoming paper to be presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of ISPSO in Santiago – ‘Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation’.

What makes leadership ‘asymmetric’?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

The blog on Requisite Authority argues that Asymmetric Leadership becomes necessary when competing in the ‘red zone’ – the zone in which the enterprise must be dynamically responsive to its clients one-by-one. But what does this mean for a person in the leadership position?  The answer boils down to the pursuit of four agendas that have to be held in balance, a lack of balance between them (i.e. unequal attention to each) leading to the collapse of the whole leadership effort:[1,2]


  • North[3]: Hold the context and provide ‘top cover’ for all those working within the enterprise.  Sustain the steadiness of intent of the enterprise.
  • East[4]: Legitimise questioning in the name of what-the-client-wants, so that the enterprise never loses a sense of its ‘edge’. Allow the otherness of the client to lead you to what is needed in their situation.
  • South[5]: Ensure that the supporting resources and infrastructures are appropriately agile, so that it becomes practicable to take up the questioning and to do something effective in response.  Know where you are and what is possible.
  • West[6]: Make it in people’s interests to engage both with the questioning and with finding ways of responding effectively, which is both a matter of the way individuals benefit from their work and also a matter of enabling them to be equipped with the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience to act effectively. Enable people to align whatever is available from the South to the demands from the East within the context of the North.

What makes leadership asymmetric?  It is that its authority is derived from enabling the enterprise’s responses to each client situation to be appropriately aligned in each case, one-by-one.  Its authority is not derived from what is already-known by the enterprise  – that already-known, vested in the leader, rendering his or her leadership symmetric aka North South dominant.  An example of this is given in considering what makes practice-based commissioning difficult in practice.

[1] This notion of balance was based originally on The Book of Five Rings written by Shinmen Musashi in 1645 (Allison & Busby: London, 1974), and in particular its notion of the void: “By void I mean that which has no beginning and no end.  Attaining this principle means not attaining the principle. The Way of strategy is the Way of nature.  When you appreciate the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of any situation, you will be able to hit the enemy naturally and strike naturally”. For us, this “enemy” is that which prevents us from continuing to be dynamically responsive to the situation.
[2] What makes this balance so difficult is the very different nature of each of the four agendas. Thus on the one hand is the conveyance of a shared sense of what the enterprise is about (N), and the grounding of this in meeting the challenges of each client’s situation (E). But in order for HR policies and systems of accountability to support dynamic alignment (E), and in order for the enterprise’s resources and infrastructures to deliver requisite agility (S) a wholly different order of complexity and timescale have to be managed. Failing to balance the ‘relationships’ (NE) with the ‘engineering’ (SW) means a split between a NE espoused theory and a SW theory-in-use with fatal consequences for the development of the enterprise as a whole.  The nine varieties of ground provide a way of thinking about the different kinds of challenge leadership faces as the four agendas become unbalanced.
[3] Fire: “This book is about fighting.  The spirit of fire is fierce, whether the fire be small or big; and so it is in battles.  This is the steadiness of intent with which the client challenges are enabled to be met.
[4] Wind: “This book is not concerned with my Ichi school but with other schools of strategy.  By Wind I mean old traditions, present-day traditions, and family traditions of strategy… it is difficult to know yourself if you do not know others. To all Ways there are side-tracks.  If you study a Way daily, and your spirit diverges, you may think you are obeying a good Way but objectively it is not the true Way.  If you are following the true Way and diverge a little, this later will become a large divergence.”  This is the ability to recognise and respond to what is ‘other’ about the client situation that is expressing an unmet need.
[5] Ground: “It is difficult to realise the true Way just through sword-fencing.  Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.  As if it were a straight road mapped out on the ground…”. This is about knowing were you stand in all respects in being able to act effectively.
[6] Water: ‘With water as the basis, the spirit becomes like water.  Water adopts the shape of its receptacle, it is sometimes a trickle and sometimes a wild sea. ”  This is about neither the ‘organisation-in-the-mind’ nor the ‘world-in-the-mind’ being frozen, but being able to take up the shape of what is being faced.

Creating the conditions for triple-loop learning

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

by Philip Boxer

The blog on Requisite Authority introduces a diagnostic tool that examines the different possible forms of congruence between role and task, depending on how an enterprise defines its boundaries and its relationships across those boundaries.  The underlying drivers of this congruence are the need to differentiate behaviours in response to differentiated demands, and to integrate those differentiated behaviours in the interests of the enterprise as a whole.  This thinking applies to any enterprise, but situational resistance is easier to understand when it is applied to a membership organisation responding to the needs of its members – the modern democratic state responding to the needs of its citizens being an instance of this, another instance being a state actor within an ecosystem, as in the case of the UK’s National Health Service and Social Services responding to local primary care doctors. In the case of a membership organisation, then, consider what happens when

  • either its leadership insists on an organisation that is not congruent with the behaviors its members feel to be necessary in responding to demands ‘on the ground’,
  • or its members, responding to demands ‘on the ground’, insist on behaviors that are not congruent with the way their leadership expects to support them.

Some such loss of alignment is inevitable in the process of a membership organisation responding to growing demands from its members. This may be because members responding to demands ‘on the ground’ either get ahead of or lag behind their leadership[1]. Either way, situational resistance describes resistance by members in which their behaviors ‘on the ground’ challenge the leadership’s approach to sustaining the (competitive) identity of the organisation. A response from leadership to such challenges that aims to conserve the existing identifications supported by the organisation is then counter-resistance.

To think about what kinds of balance emerge between the governance processes of the organisation and members responding ‘on the ground’ to changing demands, three kinds of alignment can be distinguished between the two sides of the diamond:

  • The ‘role culture’ expected by leadership is over-determining of how roles should be taken up by members (lhs), reflecting members’ behaviors being over-determined by the nature of the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – no choices are left open to role-holders nor do they need to be available to members in practice.
  • The ‘power’ and ‘achievement cultures’ in which leadership constrains but does not over-determine how roles should be taken up by members (lhs), reflecting members being constrained but not over-determined by the nature of the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – some choices are left open to role-holders and need to be available to members in practice.
  • The ‘support culture’ expected by leadership is under-determining of how roles should be taken up by members (lhs), reflecting members’ behaviors needing to be under-determined in relation to the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – choices are left open to role-holders, in practice needing to be left open to members.

These three kinds of alignment correspond to three possible ways in which leadership may understand how role and task should be aligned:

  • Death ground[2]: the leadership organises particular ways of supporting its members, on the basis of which it must either dominate the competition or die. (For example Nokia competing on the functionality of their handsets alone.)
  • Key/Contentious ground[3]: while still hierarchical, the leadership is flexing the support it provides to its members, but only in limited ways alongside competitors who will be doing the same thing but in different ways.  Attacking competitors is therefore dangerous because they are as capable of extending into the organisation’s domain as vice versa. (For example Microsoft competing with other platform suppliers that provide overlapping capabilities.)
  • Dispersive ground[4]: ground on which the situations faced by members must be responded to one-by-one, so that the identity of the organisation must be derived from the nature of the situations faced by its members.  On this ground, competitors are secondary to members, and the leadership needs to enable its members to share a strong sense of a shared ethic in how they work if the organisation is not to lose a sense of its raison d’être. (For example, a Google becoming all things to all comers and losing people to business start-ups.)

What then happens when there is not this alignment?  There are three ways in which members’ behaviors may demand more support from the organisation than it can currently integrate:

  • Difficult/Bad ground[5]: Members’ behaviors in the situations they face are more complex than those supported by the organisation.  Those trying to do more must press on in the hope that the organisation will catch up. (For example, a development project facing initial technical hurdles to realising its plans.)
  • Serious/Deep ground[6]: Members’ behaviors are wholly driven by the situations they face ‘on the ground’, but the support they need is wholly beyond the capabilities of the organisation.  To survive, those involved in these situations must depend on the benefit they derive directly ‘on the ground’. (For example, a development project that is not supported by its host culture must look for support from its customers.)
  • Frontier ground[7]: The organisation is beginning to integrate the more complex forms of support needed by its members, but not to a sufficient extent. The members needing these more complex forms of support must press on and expect the organisation to catch up. (For example, a development project still held back from fulfilling its promise as an edge-driven business.)

And there are three ways in which the organisation may be capable of integrating more complex forms of support than those demanded by its members:

  • Focal/Intersecting ground[8]: The support needed by members ‘on the ground’ is limited and the organisation is capable of integrating more complex forms of support.  To survive competitively, the organisation must forge alliances with other organisations satisfying different but related behaviors in order that together, their memberships can make effective use of the organisation’s capabilities. (For example, a dotcom trying to build its linkages to other dotcoms in order to improve its offering to its clients.)
  • Encircled ground[9]: The support needed by members ‘on the ground’ is still limited and the organisation is capable of integrating more complex forms of support.  This capability is used by leadership to manage competitors’ understanding of the opportunities open to their members (using ‘stratagems’) as a way of keeping the leadership’s own options open. (For example, a dotcom that must walk before it can run in building revenues while trying to head off competitors from developing services that will compete with its intended future offerings.)
  • Communicating ground[10]: The support needed by competitors’ members ‘on the ground’ are more complex, but while the organisation is able to support those more complex behaviors, it needs to limit itself to making sure that it only supports the behaviors of its own members ‘on the ground’. (For example, a dotcom choosing not to integrate all the services it could in order to preserve its market focus.)

The resultant 9 varieties of competitive ground on which the leadership of an organisation may find itself can be expressed in terms of two axes[11]:

  • An axis of movement, being the relation of members’ task behaviors to the actual situations they face ‘on the ground’, and
  • An axis of difficulty, being the relation of the support provided by the organisation to its members, through which different forms of support can be provided to members’ appropriately differentiated behaviors ‘on the ground’.

Changes in position within the resultant diagram provide insights into the challenges that the leadership of an organisation faces in responding to growth in its members’ demands, derived from the challenges they face in keeping task and role aligned to each other.  To the extent that the leadership of an organisation seeks to conserve its identity (aka exercise counter-resistance), resisting the challenges arising from members’ situational resistance, it is likely that the organisation has become impaled by some previously traumatic alignment.[12]

[1] This issue of the relationship between an enterprise and its environments is explored in THE environment does not exist, its point being that the environment does not exist in general, but always as a number of particular contexts that may not be apparent to leadership. The members ‘on the ground’ may thus be responding to a different ‘logic’ to that expected of them by their leadership and vice versa, where the leaders are responding to interests not perceived by members to be their interests.
[2] Ground in which the army survives only if it fights with the courage of desperation is called death ground. In death ground, fight. Make it evident that there is no chance of survival.
[3] Ground that is equally advantageous for the enemy or me to occupy is key ground. Do not attack an enemy who occupies key ground. Hasten up my rear elements.
[4] When a feudal lord fights in his own territory, he is in dispersive ground. Do not fight in dispersive ground. Unify the determination of the army.
[5] When the army traverses mountains, forests, precipitous country, or marches through defiles, marshlands, or swamps, or any place where the going is hard, it is in difficult ground. In difficult ground, press on. Press on over the roads.
[6] When the army has penetrated deep into hostile territory, leaving far behind many enemy cities and towns, it is in serious ground. In deep ground, plunder. Ensure a continuous flow of provisions.
[7] When he makes but a shallow penetration into enemy territory he is on frontier ground. Do not stop in the frontier borderlands. Keep my forces closely linked.
[8] When a state is enclosed by three other states its territory is focal. In focal ground, ally with neighboring states. Strengthen my alliances.
[9] Ground to which access is constricted, where the way out is tortuous, and where a small enemy force can strike my larger one is called encircled. In encircled ground, devise stratagems. Block the points of access and egress.
[10] Ground equally accessible to both the enemy and me is communicating. In communicating ground do not allow your formations to become separated. Pay strict attention to my defences.
[11] These two axes refer to the way behaviors are differentiated in relation to demand situations (movement), and the way differentiated behaviors are themselves integrated, i.e. held in relation to each other (difficulty) – see integrating differentiated behaviours.  ‘Ground’ here refers to the nature of the competitive landscape within which identity is challenged, the nine varieties of ground being taken from Sun Tzu’s work on ‘The Art of War’ (OUP 1963[500BC]). The notes to each variety of ground are quotes from his work. These quotes are included to see how the metaphor has been used.
[12] This refers back to the challenge to leadership in which what has to be overcome in any development process are the challenges of past traumas. What is particularly at issue is navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of anxiety and innovation, constituting an ethical challenge to leadership.

Requisite Authority: when is triple-loop learning *necessary*

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

What organisation needs asymmetric and tripartite approaches to leadership? Why engage in triple-loop learning driven by dilemmas in sustaining relationships to individual clients’ demands?  What makes action research using plus-one processes so important?

Approached from the drivers of organisational scope, the answer to each question is: any organisation, once responding to the horizontal drivers of performance becomes more important than remaining subject solely to the constraints imposed by its vertical controls, since under these conditions the organisation is in a complex and therefore ‘turbulent‘ environment in which clients must be responded to one-by-one. Health and social care are good examples of such an environment, but all industries are moving towards this condition under the influence of information technologies and the increasing prevalence of multi-sided demands, the necessary corollary being the use of platform strategies.[1] Another kind of answer is: “if competition pushes you into the ‘red zone’ in the diagram below”.

It is easier to understand this ‘red zone’ if we start by considering what makes triple-loop learning not necessary. The diagram approaches this in terms of the way role and task are aligned to each other, requisite authority being whatever role definition is congruent with the task demands on the organisation. Triple-loop learning is  not necessary as long as the ‘red zone’ can be avoided, the ‘double diamond’ providing a diagnostic tool for identifying this condition:


  • Task: Either there are no dynamic cross-boundary relations to demand situations that are driving performance (e.g. providing medical equipment), or, if there are, then they can be responded to solely in terms of a choices defined by the organisation ex ante (e.g. providing a menu of in-home services)
  • Role: Either there is no accountability for performance in the demand situation (e.g. performance of the equipment once sold is down to the purchaser), or, if there is, then the accountability is to the person who signed the contract and not to performance within the situation itself (e.g. “if you are not satisfied with my performance, then take it up with my manager and don’t complain to me”).

Requisite authority involves there being congruence between the role and task sides of this diagram.  Lack of congruence means either too much organisational complexity or inadequate organisational support, depending on which way it goes.

We can add labels to the different parts of this diagram to make it clearer when triple-loop learning does become necessary:

  • Task: There is a dynamic relationship to the client’s situation that demands the dynamic alignment of differentiated behaviors and that involves dynamic linkages across the boundaries of the organisation (e.g. a care pathway has to be configured and continuously adapted to the needs of the individual client).
  • Role: Responsibility for responding appropriately involves bringing together a number of services from different organisations and holding them accountable in ways that are sustainable and that relate explicitly to performance within the client’s context-of-use (e.g. a care manager responsible for through-life management of the client’s condition and accountable directly to the client).

Examining a particular case situation, a hospital group wanted to provide seamless care to patients admitted through their Emergency Department (ED).  The task on the right was therefore to provide a condition-centric episode of care, the episodes being designed one-by-one.  The problem was that the ED was in a matrix relationship to the specialist wards with which it had to negotiate admission after having admitted the patient to ED.  This negotiation was constrained by considerations other than the patient’s condition, such as the receiving ward’s budgets.
Diamond3The proposed solution was to create an ED diagnostic team that had the power to determine where a patient went from ED.  The danger with this was that did not provide requisite authority, simply relocated where power was held without addressing the underlying challenges of designing and aligning care pathways that were sustainable across the hospital group’s ecosystem.  The solution was to set up a forensic process that could track and evaluate the performance of the ecosystem in order to learn what forms of agility were needed beyond the establishment of the diagnostic team.

The outcome from this process was a new organisational capability to backtrack ED admissions and to examine them as symptoms of failure in the primary social and healthcare systems.  This led to new ways of managing patients’ chronic conditions and failures in care funding.

[1] The multi-sided platform strategies of Apple, Google and Amazon are also good examples of this, as are the failures of Nokia and Blackberry through their continuing pursuit of one-sided strategies in environments demanding multi-sideness.

Leadership Qualities and the North-South bias

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
A recent examination of the Leadership Qualities Framework, developed by the UK’s National Skills Academy, shows just how difficult it is to counteract the bias of North-South dominant assumptions about governance and leadership[1], even as in this case where there is very clearly a wish to do so.[2]  This bias becomes apparent in the assumptions made about the nature of strategy and its relation to hierarchy.

Policy, Strategy and Tactics
The framework gives a special role to strategic leadership with its own additional qualities: creating the vision and delivering the strategy. In the forward to this framework, Norman Lamb MP points out the following:

Good social care has the potential to transform people’s lives. It can help them realise independence, exercise meaningful choice and control over the care and support they receive, and live with dignity and opportunity. Good social care has the potential to transform people’s lives. It can help them realise independence, exercise meaningful choice and control over the care and support they receive, and live with dignity and opportunity. High quality leadership, embedded throughout the social care workforce, is fundamental to the delivery of high quality care. At the same time, we need to reach beyond the workforce and bring leadership skills and capabilities to service users, their carers and the communities in which they live and work.

For leadership to fulfill this promise, it must at least aspire to responding to people’s lives one-by-one. Put another way, in order to transform a person’s life, a particular combination of services need to be dynamically aligned to that person’s needs over time that remain particular to that person’s situation and context. This alignment of services has to be run East-West to reflect the fact that its design is inevitably entangled with the way they impact on that person’s experience.
This means that leadership has to enable the organisation to hold a dilemma – a tension between securing economies of scale and scope from the way component services are provided, and securing economies of alignment from the way these component services are combined in relation to any one person’s needs. This tension can be represented by the concept of rings and wedges: rings (securing economies of scale and scope) can provide well-defined services that are effectively provided by North-South dominant forms of governance, while wedges (securing economies of alignment) align combinations of services in particular ways that can be effectively provided by East-West dominant forms of governance.
So what is wrong with thinking in terms of strategy-and-tactics? The industrial world names as ‘strategy’ what the military calls ‘operations’, while the industrial world names as ‘policy’ what the military calls ‘strategy’.[3] Relating the industrial names to the NSEW model<sup[4],

  • tactics are about using know-how(W) to make the best possible use of capabilities(S),
  • strategy is about developing the most effective know-how(W) for addressing a particular kind of demand(E), and
  • policy is about determining what variety of demands(E) can be addressed within the context of the organisation as a whole(N).

The point about East-West alignment is therefore that strategy has to be determined at the level of the individual wedge and it is the policy frame that creates the conditions at the level of the organisation as a whole within which the ring-wedge dilemmas can be supported effectively.  Strategy has to be held at the edge of the organisation within a unifying policy frame.

The vertical and the horizontal axes of governance
Which brings us to the relation of strategy and hierarchy. The Leadership Qualities Framework proposes that it be applied at four levels of leadership as follows:

  • Front-line Worker – Care Assistants, Care Workers, Volunteers, Students, Graduates, Temporary Ancillary Staff and Practitioners
  • Front-line Leadership – Supervisors, Team Leaders, Shift Leaders
  • Operational Leadership – Registered Managers, Service Managers
  • Strategic Leadership – Senior leaders, Directors and Managers who are responsible for directing and controlling the organisation

The issue here is that these levels are defined hierarchically (in the sense that each one is accountable to the level above it), as opposed to being defined in terms of the tensions held between them, which look different in terms of rings and wedges:

  • Operational Leadership becomes responsible for supply-side leadership of defined services, accountable for the way these services can deliver outcomes in combination with other services[5];
  • Front-Line Leadership becomes responsible for demand-side leadership at the edge of the organisation, accountable for the dynamic alignment of combinations of services appropriate to the situation and context of a demand[6];
  • Front-line workers become responsible for task leadership, ensuring that a particular alignment of services is delivered effectively; and
  • Strategic leadership becomes responsible for asymmetric leadership – leadership which enables the organisation to hold and sustain a dynamic balance between its supply-side and demand-side.[7]

Asymmetric leadership is about enabling dilemmas to be held effectively E-W
The use of hierarchy has to be placed in the context of networked forms of organisation and distributed or collaborative approaches to leadership.[8] Operating within these turbulent complex ecosystems cannot be managed independently of the dynamics in the environment. In the place of hierarchy with its defined outputs as an overarching organising principle therefore comes the containing of dilemmas and a double challenge.[9]

[1] The difference between North-South and East-West dominant assumptions about governance is introduced here, with comment on the consequences of North-South dominance on the East-West axis here.
[2] A close reading of the detailed content of the framework clearly recognises the issues raised in this blog. The difficulty is that the conceptual scaffolding within which the framework is constructed rests on presumptions of hierarchy. For more on conceptual scaffolding, see Lane, D. A., R. Emilia, et al. (2005). “Ontological uncertainty and innovation.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 15.
[3] For more on this three-way distinction, see creating value in ecosystems: establishing a 3-level approach to strategy.
[4] Another way of understanding the relations between policy-strategy-tactics is in terms of the dual span of complexity and associated timespan of discretion, complexity and timespan being synchronic and diachronic ways of describing a system. In these terms the actors within a system are subjected to (i.e. constrained in their choices by) structure; and narrative takes place within the context of actors’ lives. Policy is thus structural in its effects, strategy is about asserting and sustaining difference between actors, and tactics are the unfolding of narrative within this context. A forensic process therefore examines the implicit effects of structure on narrative in order to identify how its constraints ‘kill’ certain kinds of narrative i.e. prevent certain kinds of outcome.
Jaques’ insistence on discrete levels of discretion can be understood in these terms as relations of subjection.  The figure above is derived from Figure 5 in Christian Dominique and Stephane Flamant, “Strategic Narrative: around a narrative intervention assisted” French Management Review, 2005/6 No. 159, p. 283-302.
[5] This is referred to as the primary task of the service…
[6] … while this is referred to as the primary risk faced by the particular relation to demand. See quality as the driver at the edge for more about these two axes.
[7] This creates challenges for the organisation, both enabling its client-customers to be related to one-by-one by authorising leadership at the edge, and also by creating appropriately agile supporting platforms and infrastructures that make this sustainable. This kind of complex organisation I refer to as quantum organisation.
[8] For more on the architectural implications of quantum organisation, see architectures that integrate differentiated behaviors
[9] For more on the different nature of complex environments, see the drivers of organisational scale.

Span-of-complexity, timespan-of-discretion and the double alignment of ‘know-how’

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

John Kotter, in his article about how to stay competitive amid constant turbulence and disruption, introduces the idea of “two systems, one organisation“, one system being about the organisation of the vertical linkages associated with the hierarchical North-South, and the second being about the way East-West networks of horizontal linkages are organised. He makes the point that competition is more and more about managing the complex on the edge of chaos, far different to the demands of the 20th Century corporate era.  How are we to think about the demands this shift is imposing on individuals?

Elliott Jaques, in his book The Form of Time, makes a distinction between two kinds of time (p14):

  • chronos – that of “chronological, seriatim time of succession, measurable by clocks and chronometers”; and
  • kairos – that of “seasonal time, the time of episodes with a beginning, a middle, and an end, the human and living time of intentions and goals”.

Jaques, and the Brunel Institute he founded, developed an approach to career path appreciation within bureaucracies – organisations in which the work of subordinates within a hierarchy were aligned under the strategy ceiling of the whole.  This approach was based on the timespan of discretion expected in the exercise of a particular role within the hierarchy.[1]

This timespan of discretion of a role is identified by Jaques in terms of chronos, but can also be identified in terms of kairos in terms of the role’s span of complexity. The span is defined by the operationally and managerially independent entities that are interacting with each other ‘horizontally’, but for which the role holder is responsible ‘vertically’. The complexity comes from the way these ‘horizontal’ interactions generate behaviours [2].   This timespan of discretion/span of complexity reflects the extent to which the exercise of the role is under-determined, i.e. determining outcomes is open to the judgement of the role-holder. In a role that is over-determined, there is a chronos logic to the succession of events that leaves the role-holder with no discretion over outcomes.  But with under-determination comes the opportunity for the role-holder to impose outcomes through the exercise of judgement.  In Jaques’ work, the importance of the accountability hierarchy was to ensure conformance of the role-holder’s judgement to the overall expectations from above the strategy ceiling.  Seven levels were distinguished, described as follows:[3]

  1. Prescribed output: responding to concrete demands – use expertise in practical judgement in such a way that resources of time, skills, equipment and materials are not wasted or misused.
  2. Situational response: assessing concrete needs – comprehend each particular situation by exploration, imagination and appraisal, and then resolve it; explain why work is to be done in a particular way; explain/demonstrate how a particular task is to be done.
  3. Systematic provision: handling concrete systems – imagine all the possible practices and systems that might be used; select those that are appropriate in the light of local conditions; make the most of the people, the finances and the technologies in order to realise those that have been chosen.
  4. Comprehensive provision: developing multiple services – coordinate and supply resources for the practices that are already in place; develop new systems or practices; meet changes in purpose; terminate those means that are no longer realising the purpose.
  5. Field coverage: shaping overall operations – represent the organisation to the external context; act as the source of the mission and as the source of both current and new technologies; relate the separate activities of level 4.
  6. Multi-field coverage: framing operational fields – monitor, obtain and shape intelligence about external contexts; protect the strategic business units against excessive turbulence, alerting them of opportunities and likely pressures; representing the organisation in external contexts; judge priorities for corporate investment.
  7. Total coverage: defining basic parameters – state and disseminate the values of the whole; consider how these values may best be expressed in contexts with different value systems and different social and political economies; design contexts for the future of the whole in places or activities that may appear peripheral but will eventually be sources of strategic advantage; sustain the whole by producing new strategic business units by acquisition, mergers and joint ventures and divesting where appropriate.

The difficulty with this framework emerges when there needs to be no strategy ceiling, and the behavior of the enterprise needs to be relational, delivering type IV quality within the client’s domain of relevance. The alignment of the levels must therefore not be determined by a prior design-time strategy ceiling but in response to the present ‘WHY’ of the client’s relation to their situation representing an opportunity.[4],[5] This is a shift from affiliation to a founding model established at design-time ‘above the ceiling’. In its place comes an alliance formed at ‘run-time’ around containing some particular set of dilemmas in the client’s situation. It requires a change to the way the levels are understood in which the four quadrants are explicitly aligned to the particular client situation. It helps to see this difference if we speak of ‘service units’ rather than ‘business units’.

The first four levels remain the same, being about the way infrastructural capabilities (1-2) and intra-service-unit organisation (3-4) operate.  The changes come in the levels 5-6 which deal more explicitly with inter-service-unit alignment, and with the superstructural assumptions in level 7 which become primarily about creating value in the client situation:[6]

  1. Prescribed output: responding to concrete demands.
  2. Situational response: assessing concrete needs.
  3. Systematic provision: handling concrete systems.
  4. Comprehensive provision: developing multiple services.
  5. Field coverage: shaping overall operations within the client’s domain of relevance – align service units to the client’s context-of-use within an operational field[7]; act as the source of the mission and as the source of both current and new propositions; relate the separate activities of service units at level 4.
  6. Multi-domain coverage: framing operational fields aka domains of relevance – monitor, obtain and shape intelligence about clients’ contexts-of-use across multiple domains of relevance; protect the domains against excessive turbulence, alerting field coverage of opportunities and likely pressures; represent the whole in clients’ contexts-of-use; judge priorities for strategic investment..
  7. Overall coverage: defining basic parameters – state and disseminate the values of the whole; identify client domains of relevance for the future of the whole in places or for activities that may appear peripheral but will eventually be new sources of value; sustain the whole by creating new service units and potential composite services through alignments between them by acquisition, mergers and joint ventures and divesting where appropriate.

Viewed in this way, these two sets of supply-side levels 1-4 and demand-side levels 5-7 can be used to examine the ‘double alignment’ of ‘West’ know-how[8]:

  1. Vertically, to ensure that roles are defined in terms of the first supply-side set, aligning role-holders’ interests to supporting the use of units’ services at the edge; and
  2. Horizontally, to ensure that the dynamic processes of collaboration and co-creation align the relations at the edge between units’ services and client situations, conforming to the second demand-side set.

These correspond to Kotter’s “two systems, one organisation“, the first being about the organisation of the hierarchical North-South, and the second being about the way the East-West networks are organised.  Managing the tension between these two forms of organisation is fundamental to enabling an enterprise to sustain relational behavior.

[1] Two kinds of insight emerged from the use of career path appreciation: (i) a critical examination of the numbers of levels in a hierarchy, and whether they were necessary to its effective operation – leading to the identification of pseudo-levels; and (ii) a comparison between the level at which the role was defined as compared with the level of which the role-holder was capable – here mismatches led to difficulties in fulfilling expectations of the role and/or behaviors going beyond the remit of the role itself.
[2] Complex behavior (as distinct from chaotic, complicated or simple behaviors) reflect the relation between the horizontal cause-and-effect linkages and the vertical control linkages. See the drivers of organisational scope.
[3] In his book on levels of abstraction in logic and human action, Jaques approximates these timespans chronologically in terms of where the breakpoints came: levels 1-2 ~ 3 months; levels 2-3 ~ 1 year; levels 3-4 ~ 2 years; levels 4-5 ~ 5 years; levels 5-6 ~ 10 years; and levels 6-7 ~ 20 years. When dealing with relational organisations, these have to be converted into time spans relative to the granularity of the component activities, but in a way that reflects the way the relationships are structured.
[4] ‘Client’ is used here in the sense of the position of the client in tempo, entanglement and East-West dominance – the problem is local to the client’s situation or context-of-use, and the models for delivering value have to be actively aligned to that situation.
[5] Remember that the strategy ceilings are derived from the 4-quadrant analysis of the theory-of-use implicit in the behavior of the enterprise.  The ordering of these quadrants comes from the ways in which their timespans of discretion/spans of complexity are nested – it takes longer to shape behaviors supporting the ‘WHY’ than to shape the behaviors supporting the ‘WHAT’.
[6] Thus levels 1-2 relate to the infrastructural capabilities of the ‘WHAT’; levels 3-4 relate to the intra-service-unit organisation of the ‘HOW’; levels 5-6 relate to the inter-service-unit organisation of the ‘WHO-for-WHOM’; and level 7 relates to the superstructural assumptions of the ‘WHY’.
[7] This ‘operational field’ is the domain of relevance with respect to the client’s situation.
[8] Referred to in a footnote to the last point 4 of tempo, entanglement and East-West dominance.  This is what leads to the need for ‘tripartite leadership’ – see The Double Challenge: working through the tension between meaning and motivation in a large system.  Tripartite leadership involves top leaders, professionals and clinicians e.g. in “Leading Psychological Services: A report by the Division of Clinical Psychology”, British Psychological Association, February 2007. For clinician you can substitute any edge role that is about shaping the response to the particular situation. The religious domain is another domain in which I have had particular experience of the challenges facing tripartite leadership e.g. Asymmetric Leadership: supporting a CEO’s response to turbulence.

Tempo, Entanglement and East-West dominance

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

A provider-supplier may face new challenges when it becomes actively involved in supporting a client-purchaser’s experience of value.  This depends on whether or not the client-purchaser’s experience of value is dynamic i.e. on the demand tempo at which the client-purchaser’s experience of value is changing.  In the following diagram this is shown as a move into the top-right-hand quadrant.

But why should this quadrant require an approach to governance that is East-West dominant?  To understand this, we need to say more about ‘tempo’:

‘Tempo’ refers to the rate at which structural changes take place in the way a system relates to its environments. In the figure above, three spaces are identified – that of the suppliers, of the Provider and of Clients. Within the suppliers’ space, the supplier’s environment is their users within the Provider. Within the Provider’s operational space its environment is the multi-sided demands presented by its Clients; and within the Client’s space the environment is the context-of-use within which each Client’s demand arises. This allows us to distinguish three tempos:

  • Acquisition tempo – the rate at which suppliers are able to meet new requirements.
  • Alignment tempo – the rate at which the Provider is able to align new value propositions to new demands from Clients through processes of orchestrating and synchronizing multiple products and services, including those of complementors.
  • Demand tempo – the rate at which new forms of multi-sided demand emerge from Clients that need to be satisfactorily addressed.

The normal assumption is that the tempo of change within each space can be considered independently – the spaces can be ‘disentangled’ from each other. This allows the classical purchasing cycle in the figure below to be used. This is the framing assumption characteristic of North-South dominance, implicit in which is the assumption that the ‘design time’ of the supplier can be disentangled from the ‘run-time’ of the Provider’s operational space [1]:

A different framing assumption is that the Provider is part of a socio-technical ecosystem, containing many systems of systems using overlapping and interlocking components, in which the way these systems are brought together has to be dynamically aligned to Clients’ needs.  This is the assumption of East-West dominance – there is no ‘design-time’.[2]  Under these conditions, a supplier is always adding a new component into the already ‘live’ environment of the Provider.  Its supplied component cannot therefore be ‘disentangled’ from the multiple contexts in which it is to be used:

This entanglement demands asymmetric leadership of the Provider.  This involves keeping a balance between four different aspects of the Provider’s behavior:

  1. the leadership of the organisation as a whole (North);
  2. the ‘agility’ of its infrastructures, i.e. the variety of behaviours the infrastructure is able to support (South);
  3. the variety of different ways in which the separate behaviours of the infrastructure have to be aligned to Clients’ demands, for which managers ‘at the edge’ can be held accountable (East); and
  4. the ways in which the Provider makes it in its employees’ interests to work in a way that is driven from the East rather than from within separate silos – including providing the means of managing alignment effectively (West). [3]

[1] ‘Design-time’ and ‘Run-time’ are ways of distinguishing a time prior to engagement with the Client during which a new proposition may be developed. ‘Run-time’ is the time within which there is a ‘live’ interaction with the Client.
[2] And no strategy ceiling therefore, since all aspects of the Provider’s response to the Client have to be ‘live’.
[3] ‘West’ involves a double alignment because there is both an alignment of the interests of those exercising know-how and also an alignment by that know-how of ‘South’ capabilities to ‘East’ demands.

Quality as the driver at the edge

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

Much has been said on the subject of quality, including its tendency to focus on the quality of outputs rather than on the quality of outcome for the user of those outputs.1 See, for example, ‘Quality Management Gets Strategic and Discovers (Gasp!) The Customer‘.  The figure below approaches quality in a way that relates back to the challenges of working at the edge, of describing what-is-going-on at the edge in terms of 4 quadrants, and of addressing the limitations on quality created by a low strategy ceiling.2

The horizontal line represents the way primary task is defined, and the vertical line represents the way primary risk is defined.3 This gives us a way of distinguishing 4 types of Quality, each one built on the foundations of the one before:

  • Type I – the behaviour conforms to its contractual specification e.g. we delivered it in the time window we said we would.
  • Type II – the behaviour serves the supplier’s purpose in what it delivers e.g. we delivered it in a time window that fitted the urgency you were prepared to pay for.
  • Type III – the behaviour serves the user’s purpose in how it is delivered e.g. we installed it and ensured it was working as you expected within your environment.
  • Type IV – the behaviour continues to serve the user’s purpose over time through being adapted to the user’s changing needs e.g. we monitored its performance and modified what it was doing as your needs changed.

Using the rcKP language, the behaviours on the left are r-type and c-type, being at best customizable in ways that serve the supplier’s purpose.  In contrast, the behaviours on the right are K-type and P-type, being concerned with aligning performance to the current and/or evolving nature of the user’s situation.  Quality on the left can be defined largely independently of the context-of-use, while quality on the right cannot.

[1] A distinction can usefully be made between consumer, customer and client that speaks of increasing involvement with an active user’s context-of-use.
[2] The point being the lower the strategy ceiling, the fewer of the quadrants are judged to be relevant to quality, arms-length contracting restricting quality to the type I fulfillment of a contract to deliver.
[3] These definitions are implicit in the behaviour of an enterprise within the context of its domain of relevance, and reflect the way its managers’ identities are supported by those behaviours.

Architectures that integrate differentiated behaviors

Monday, August 1st, 2011

by Philip Boxer

In the previous blog on strategy ceilings, I made reference to architectures as describing the way differentiated behaviors are integrated. How are these architectures to be described?  What makes relational architectures different? And what architecturally distinguishes edge-driven collaboration?

The operational integration need only concern itself with the boundary or perimeter of the task system, all assumptions about ‘how’, ‘for whom’ and ‘why’ being implicit in the way its director manages its boundaries. In contrast, professional integration includes differentiated functions within it corresponding to the different professional bodies of knowledge, still leaving the ‘for whom’ and ‘why’ assumptions implicit.  These differentiated functions deliver economies of scale and scope for the task system as a whole:

In contrast,  positional integration by a single enterprise adds a Divisional form of organization so that the ‘for whom’ assumption can be made explicit.  Thus each Division forms a Strategic Business Unit (SBU) with a distinct positioning in the market, across which the different forms of professional know-how are supplied centrally through ‘push’ relationships to the SBU line management:

This ‘directed’ positional integration contrasts with ‘acknowledged’ positional integration, in which it is the acknowledged leadership of a contractual entity or Joint Venture that determines how the different businesses are to be brought together – in this case corresponding to the two Group Managing Directors.  In both cases, the ‘why’ assumptions get left implicit, determining the (symmetric) way in which markets are defined by the Joint Venture:

But what happens when the enterprise takes up an East-West relation to demand, using Virtual Business Units (VBUs) to provide relational integration through the ‘pull’ relations they establish with the SBU line managements.1  These ‘pull’ relations establish an internal market in which the VBUs are able to use only those products or services that they need.  This situation arises where the enterprise becomes a prime contractor, for example in defence contracts, or where particular customers demand greater integration of products and services, for example in providing cellular communications infrastructures, or where the enterprise becomes sufficiently complex (because of its size) to form its own ecosystem, for example with the UK NHS or the large global financial institutions. In this case, leadership has to be distributed across the enterprise, with the role of the center becoming one of managing the tension between the supply-side and demand-side economics of the enterprise as a whole:

Finally, there is relational integration driven by collaboration ‘at the edge’, in which there is no single authority managing all the tensions between the supply-side and demand-side economics of the ecosystem as a whole, other than perhaps through government imposing demand-side regulation to limit the power of suppliers over customers. This is the domain of open-source suppliers, ‘thick’ markets and multi-sided demands, in which competition takes place at the level of the ecosystem of suppliers and customers, rather than at the level of the individual supplier:

These distinctions correspond to different approaches to leadership reflecting the different forms of integration, with asymmetric leadership being associated with the relational approaches to integration on the right of the ‘squiggly line’.  Note that in these cases, ecosystem-level considerations have to be taken up even by the single enterprise , the differences between collaborative and distributed leadership being essentially over the use of ‘open-source’ versus  ‘closed-source’ approaches to competition:

[1] Thinking of this in terms of rcKP propositions, r-type and c-type propositions can be supplied by an SBU, but K-type or P-type propositions need a Virtual Business Unit capable of aligning multiple products and services to a customer’s demand. This may be done by depending on a Faustian pact with an individual given permission to bend the organisation’s North-South rules because of the scale of the individual contract, or it may involve moving to an East-West dominant form of organisation.

Edge-driven collaboration: co-creation

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

by Philip Boxer

Everyone is collaborating these days.  Collaboration has come to mean any working together by some team of specialists around a common goal.  But is there something different about a collaboration that is edge-driven?  When a number of individuals come together from different organizations in order to manage the care a person receives over time, is it different from specialists collaborating within a single organization?

The answer put forward here is “yes”, because of differences in both the required approach to governance and in the nature of the object around which the collaboration takes place – edge-driven collaboration is essentially a learning process in which there is co-creation, something more than the sum of the parts emerges. For example, collaboration under terms dictated by a Health Care Trust is of a different nature to collaboration between independent care specialists coming together around the treatment of  the complex long term condition of a particular patient.

Why this answer? A two-by-two helps to explain:

  • An organization that operates with a particular business model defines its boundary in terms of the capabilities it uses over which it has direct control, and in terms of its perimeter if it includes the capabilities over which it has contractual control. For example, the perimeter of a primary care practice will include the physiotherapists and psychologists on contract to support its patients, while its boundary will only include those directly employed by the practice.
  • An organization that defines its relationship to demand in terms the variety of products and services that its business model is designed to supply takes up a symmetric relation to demand, which it will define in terms of the markets it has chosen to serve.  A ‘market’ is thus some aggregation of individual demands for its products or services, for example the market for hip replacements, defining a symmetric relation to demand.
  • If then we consider any individual patient presenting such a symmetric demand, and consider what is not satisfied for that patient by the product or service (in this example providing a hip replacement), then it defines a value deficit – something still left to be desired by the patient. For example, not included might be the way the patient subsequently uses their hip replacement as a result of the way they walk. If the supplying business was to include this value deficit as part of what it was trying to satisfy, it would make the demand asymmetric to their business model. Such an asymmetric relation to demand defines an edge.

The following puts these concepts together, with movement towards the bottom-left corner involving increased North-South dominance; and movement towards the top-right corner involving increased East-West dominance:

Within this space, a business model that ignores asymmetries of demand and brings capabilities in-house or under contractual control (the two green arrows) is able to keep control of the way it defines collaborations of value to the business.  For example, the practice might decide that it would be more efficient to treat diabetics as a separate market, setting up treatment protocols to define the collaborations managing their care pathways.

The difficulty arises because of accelerating innovation in products and services and because of patients’ conditions becoming increasingly complex, making demands increasingly singular and heterogeneous (the two red arrows). The effect is to increase the size of the top-right quadrant and make the scope of the bottom-left approach increasingly limited.

Which brings us to what is different about edge-driven collaboration.  Its governance is different because the collaboration constitutes  the business itself, ‘outside’ its supplying businesses.  And its object is different because it is defined by the (demand-side) value deficit experienced by the particular patient.

Who pays for edge-driven collaboration?  The starting position here is that the patient pays, potentially with the quality of their life when dealing with health care. Its costs are the costs of aligning all the individual suppliers’ products and services to the particular patient’s demand.  Value for the supplier can be generated by reducing these costs of alignment.

Studies have so far shown that these costs of alignment can be 30% to 50% higher than they need to be if suppliers focus on the business of edge-driven collaboration in its own right. But this means focusing on the performance of the business ecosystem rather than on the individual business.  Not easy.