Category Archives: centre vs edge

Working on the edges

by Philip Boxer
The following set of notes emerged from a conversation with Sandy Henderson about the forensic approach – an approach to understanding and beginning to address ‘systemic bias’.[1]

Implicit in the way a person speaks about what is going on (wigo) is a way of framing meaning. The frame contains wigo for the speaker in the sense of providing a way of giving meaning to their experience of wigo.[2] The wigo being contained needs to be distinguished here from the way wigo is held, which means to limit the granularity and detail of the phenomena that need containing.[3]

  • This way of framing rests on implicit assumptions that govern its reasoning.
  • The assumptions implicit within a frame can be reinforced by a cycle of process-outcome-consequence (a process undertaken to achieve an outcome has consequences that reinforce the frame’s way of containing wigo).
  • Outcomes are about what happens while consequences are about how those outcomes impact on the interests of those invested in the frame’s outcomes.
  • The frame can be disrupted by a consequence that cannot be contained by the frame’s implicit assumptions.
  • This disruptive consequence can ‘flip’ the person out of the frame into an ‘other’ frame resting on different implicit assumptions with its own reinforcing P-O-C cycle that is able to contain the disruptive consequence but in which interests are invested differently.

A dilemma emerges if the ‘other’ frame also encounters disrupting consequences such that the person is ‘flipped’ back to the P-O-C cycle under the previous frame, giving rise potentially to an oscillation between two frames.

  • When this happens, this oscillation takes place around a ‘gap’ representing the aspects of wigo that neither frame is able to contain.
  • Any frame is vulnerable to the possibility of being disrupted by ‘flipping’ outcome-consequences. There are thus always ‘other’ frames possible and different kinds of dilemma, therefore, each revealing gaps representing different kinds of impossibility.
  • The way this ‘gap’ is encountered (and the impossibility that it represents to either frame) will be symptomatic of the way each frame is being held in order to limit the disrupting consequences encountered by each of their P-O-C cycles.

Holding frames in a way that limits disrupting consequences creates a ‘systemic bias’[4] that is manifested in three ways:

  • The first is by a flight to the personal aka scapegoating – an explanation in terms of individuals’ responsibility that leaves the frames themselves unacknowledged.
  • The second is by turning a blind eye to granularity and detail that would make disrupting consequences apparent by insisting on an existing way of holding frames.
  • The third is by the disclusion of the interests of persons identified with consequences that would disrupt existing ways of holding and containing frames. To disclude is to exclude the interests of a person from consideration and dismiss as irrelevant any granularity and detail of wigo relating to those ‘other’ interests that could give rise to disrupting consequences.[5]
  • All of these manifestations of systemic bias provoke hostility and mistrust and create injustice for those affected. An injustice here means that interests are being served at others’ expense that are in some way unnecessary, excessive and/or unjustifiable.

Any challenge that is permitted to existing ways of holding frames could give rise to new frames and new kinds of gap. If a challenge is not permitted (intentionally or otherwise), the resulting injustice can be approached as a (serial) ‘murder’ of innovations – the potential frames whose creation is thereby prevented.[6]

  • Such murders may be ‘investigated’ by treating as ‘crime scenes’ the P-O-C cycles in which the injustices arose and identifying the means, opportunity and motive through which the ‘murders’ took place.
  • Probable cause aka ‘reasonable grounds’ for the systemic bias may be established by identifying the means, opportunity and motive for the scapegoating, turning a blind eye or disclusion.
  • Motive may be established through establishing the particular interests being served by the existing ways of holding frames. The systemic nature of the ‘murders’ may then be identified with those standing to benefit from them who have the means and opportunity.
  • For ‘probable cause’ to be established, however, we need ‘detectives’ – persons whose personal valency leads them to sense the injustices and to have the drive to do the forensic work involved.[7] The intention behind establishing ‘probable cause’ is, of course, a successful ‘prosecution’ that changes the repeated behaviors towards ‘others’.

The exploration of a situation felt to be problematic and/or unjust in some way – and an individual’s valency for recognising it – can be achieved through a way of using the ‘plus-one’ process. This sets out to look beyond the ‘truth’ of an individual’s narrative of a situation in order to uncover the dilemma they are experiencing in the situation, and to explore the nature of the gap between its frames with its underlying impossibility.

  • This plus-one process involves three people with a fourth person in a witness role. The plus-one process itself starts with a narrating of a situation by a speaker (1) to a listener (2) in the presence of a person in the plus-one role (3). The following three stages are repeated three times as the three people rotate around these three roles. The person in the witness role bears witness to the whole process of rotating roles.
    Stage 1 involves, in the first iteration, the articulation of the narrative about the situation experienced as problematic/unjust from the speaker’s perspective. Subsequent stage 1 narratives are in each case of a situation experienced by the speaker that shows the meaning of the metaphor they previously identified from their plus-one role.
    Stage 2 involves clarification of the narrative by the listener.
    Stage 3 is the production of a metaphor by the ‘plus-one’ based on a counter-transferential ‘hunch’ about the narrative framing within which the narrative unfolded as it emerged from the speaking-and-listening.
  • The metaphor represents the plus-one’s sense of the shape of the speaker’s relation to the situation that has emerged. The metaphor derives from the feelings evoked in the plus-one by the speaker’s articulation of the narrative and its subsequent clarification by the listener.

The witness will subsequently use the three metaphors that emerge from the plus-one process to hypothesise an ‘other side’ of the original narrative articulated by the speaker as a first step in formulating the gap between the two frames and the underlying impossibility it represents.

  • Having elaborated this ‘other side’ as an alternative P-O-C cycle narrating of the original situation, it needs to be validated by relating the ‘flipping’ consequences in each frame back to the original narrative and defining the oscillation between them.
  • The witness’s final step is then to hypothesise the nature of the gap between the frames and the underlying impossibility it represents.

Two questions then arise that define the focus of a Lacanese parallel process[8]: (i) what is it about the way this dilemma is being held that sets it up in this way; and (ii) what is the nature of the original speaker’s valency for this way of its being ‘set up’. [9]

[1] ‘systemic bias’ is apparent, for example, in institutional racism. I have written about ‘systemic bias’ in a number of its guises. In its extreme forms it edges over into being ‘white collar crime’. The forensic rule in these kinds of case is ‘to follow the money’:
“Defences against innovation: the conservation of vagueness.” (2014) Defences Against Anxiety: Explorations in a Paradigm. D. Armstrong and M. Rustin. London, Karnac: 70-87.
“Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation.” (2015) Organisational & Social Dynamics 15(1): 1-19.
“Working forensically with toxic thinking: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” (2015) 32nd Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations. Rome, Italy.
“Caring beyond reason: a question of ethics.” (2016) European Academy of Management Conference. Paris.
“On the betrayal of the other’s trauma: the ethics of questioning unconscious investment in turning a blind eye.” (2016) 33rd ISPSO Annual Symposium. Granada.
“Working with defences against innovation: the forensic challenge.” (2017) Organizational and Social Dynamics 17(1): 89-110.
[2] ‘Contains’ aka returns meaning, following Bion’s thinking about what transforms beta-elements to alpha-elements. Beta-elements are experienced as bizarre, provoking anxiety. To contain is therefore epistemic in its effects, transforming the bizarre into something that can be given meaning to. Meaning must nevertheless be understood as meaning ‘for me’, i.e. for the individual trying to make meaning.
[3] ‘Holding’ aka limiting the complexity and granularity of the phenomena being faced, following Winnicott. By granularity is meant the scale or scope of detail present in the phenomena. The way the child was held by the family situation protected the child from being exposed to phenomena that could be overwhelming or traumatic, inducing a fear of imminent annihilation.  To hold is therefore ontic in its effects, defining reality itself for the child in which the bizarre might occur. A useful account of the important role of ‘ontological scaffolding’ is to be found in Lane, D. A. and R. R. Maxfield (2005). “Ontological uncertainty and innovation.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 15.
[4] ‘Systemic bias’ aka way of sustaining an identification of interests in the way the frame(s) produce outcomes, the consequences of which are reinforcing of those interests.
[5] To both dismiss and exclude is to disclude…  the exclusion limits the granularity and complexity of the phenomena under consideration, while the dismissal reflects the way of framing.
[6] I use ‘murder’ here because it leads us to the detective genre, which is a valuable metaphor for the thinking about the challenges of working forensically. Typically, the detective is having to be relentless in the pursuit of what happened while at the same time having to battle with forces of authority that want the case closed for other reasons. See also the use of this metaphor in dilemmas as drivers of change.
[7] A brief summary of the detective genre would start from the detective’s code: dedicated to the victim, economical if not thrifty in his or her expenses and personal habits, loyal to his or her profession, cooperative to some degree with the police, concerned with self-survival, and unwilling to be duped by anyone. I have written about forensic work in Boxer, P. J. (2017). “Working with defences against innovation: the forensic challenge.” Organizational and Social Dynamics 17(1): 89-110.
[8] Not to be confused with the Balint approach to shadow consulting, which corresponds more to the role of the plus-one.  This approach to parallel process is a further development aimed at tackling the ethical challenges inherent in the original situation.
[9] Of course taking up either of these questions implies addressing the other question in some way. This implies an ethic to the extent that it demands that a manager takes responsibility for his or her own valencies. This points towards a kind of Hippocratic oath for managers – to abstain from doing harm. It also links us back to understanding what is constitutive of unintentional errors.

The Governance of Quality

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’?

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

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

  • 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’, and/or
  • members insist on behaviors based on an understanding of need that is not congruent with their actually experienced needs i.e. in a way that leaves a value deficit/asymmetry.

Some such loss of alignment is inevitable in the process of a membership organisation responding to growing demands from its members under conditions in which the environments in which members are operating are also changing. Thus loss of alignment may be because members’ demands ‘on the ground’ either get ahead of or lag behind their leadership[1]. It may also be because members themselves are using models of demand that are unable to account for what they are experiencing.  In the latter case, situational resistance describes resistance by members in which their behaviors ‘on the ground’ insist on finding ways of addressing the experienced value deficit, challenging their own current models of demand as well as the leadership’s approach to sustaining the (competitive) identity of the organisation. A response from members that insist on their current models and/or from leadership that aims to conserve the existing models and 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 responses ‘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 way they understand the nature of the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – no choices are left open to role-holders nor are they felt to be needed by 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 way they understand the nature of the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – some choices are left open to role-holders and are felt to be needed by 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 the way they understand the nature of the situations they face ‘on the ground’ (rhs) – choices are left open to role-holders, in practice felt to be needing to be held open by 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 and the members accept particular ways of understanding demand, on the basis of which the members and their organisation 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 and its members are flexing the models they use to understand demand, but, in either case, 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 in support of members who are themselves developing models of demand appropriate to each situation, so that the identity of the organisation must be derived from the nature of the situations that its members come to understand themselves as facing.  On this ground, competitors are secondary to members, and leadership needs to enable its members to work from a strong sense of a shared ethic in how they approach understanding demand in order for the organisation to have a shared sense of its raison d’être. (For example, a Google living up to a ‘do no harm’ ethic.)

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’ understanding of demand ‘on the ground’ is limited while 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’ understanding of demand ‘on the ground’ is still limited and the organisation is capable of integrating much 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 members’ understanding of demand ‘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 supports its own members’ understandings of demand ‘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 an organisation may find itself can be expressed in terms of two axes[11]:

  • An axis of movement defining a relation to the ends served by the organisation, being the relation of members’ task behaviors to the value deficits they face ‘on the ground’, and
  • An axis of difficulty defining a relation to the means by which they achieve those ends, being the relation of the support provided by the organisation to its members, through which different forms of support can be provided to members’ behaviors based on the way members relate to the value deficits they face ‘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 changes in its members’ understandings of the demands they face ‘on the ground’, derived from the challenges they face in addressing the value deficits.  To the extent that the leadership of an organisation seeks to conserve its identity and its members seek to conserve their models of demand (aka exercise counter-resistance), resisting the challenges arising from members’ situational resistance as they pursue value deficits, 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*

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

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 scope.

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

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

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

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

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.