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]

N-S-E-W

  • 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.

Notes
[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.

What identifications are supported on dispersive ground?

by Philip Boxer

The conditions for triple-loop learning require that the enterprise becomes edge-driven. This places it on dispersive ground.  The identifications that need to be supported on dispersive ground are those involving triple-loop learning.  These identifications keep the organisation on the deliberative ground of politics on which differences can be worked through within East-West dominant forms of governance.[1] Refusal to engage with this leads to three other kinds of competitive behavior (Tai Chi, Sumo and Samurai), the consequences of which become most apparent in warfare.

Consider the balance between the will of the people involved with a membership organisation (ranging from a majority to particular networks of members) and the means acceptable to the people of the organisation (ranging from by-any-means to means restricted by the extent of collateral damage).  This is based on military ways of thinking about the relation between different types of warfare and politics.  It provides an insight into what is at stake for the leadership of an organisation dealing with growing differentiation in the demands of its members. With alignment, there is a symmetry between the will of the members and the means adopted by the organisation.  Without alignment, there is an asymmetry.

Looked at it in this way,

  • Insurgent operations are the consequence of not responding to members’ demands for differentiation of behavior, combining the limited will of a network of members with no restraints by them on the damage they inflict on the ‘others’ who do not agree with them (i.e. being on difficult/bad, serious/deep or frontier ground).
  • Effects-based operations are the response by the majority of the people of the organisation to suppressing the will of those who do not agree with the majority, a highly targeted response that limits collateral damage beyond the networks in disagreement (i.e. being on focal/intersecting, encircled or communicating ground).

The danger of either asymmetric response arises from its enabling the organisation to postpone responding to and providing support for the growing heterogeneity in the way members meet demands. The challenge, of course, is for the organisation only to accept asymmetric responses as being on the way to operating on the dispersive ground of ‘politics’, ground on which growing difference may be lived with and supported – presenting leadership with the task of leading an organisation without boundaries.

These ‘nine-varieties of ground’ make it possible to distinguish three kinds of competitive behavior, depending on the nature of the ground.  The fourth ‘political’ kind involves developing leadership qualities that overcome the North-South bias:

  • Tai Chi – do not confront the other’s organisation on its terms – most appropriate on serious/deep ground  (aka insurgency).
  • Samurai – challenge the other’s behaviour ruthlessly wherever you meet it – most appropriate on encircled ground  (aka effects-based operations).
  • Sumo – dominate the chosen ground by weight of presence – most appropriate on death ground (aka the other’s attrition).

Death ground is ground defined by the organisation’s formation being defined wholly by its affiliation to a past intent and not by its relation to the current situation(s) on the ground – it is as if the organisation has no choice but to fight to the death, which in an environment demanding dynamic alignment is very likely to be its own death!

Notes
[1] Deliberative process is not to be confused with consultative process.

  • Deliberative democracy holds that, for a democratic decision to be legitimate, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation, not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Authentic deliberation is deliberation among decision-makers that is free from distortions of unequal political power, such as power a decision-maker obtained through economic wealth or the support of interest groups. If the decision-makers cannot reach consensus after authentically deliberating on a proposal, then they vote on the proposal using a form of majority rule.” This is taken up in Robert’s Rules of Order: “Out of early American legislative procedure and paralleling it in further development has come the general parliamentary law, or common parliamentary law, of today, which is adapted to the needs of organizations and assemblies of widely differing purposes and conditions. The kind of gathering in which parliamentary law is applicable is known as a deliberative assembly. This expression was used by Edmund Burke to describe the English Parliament, in a speech to the electorate at Bristol in 1774; and it became the basic term for a body of persons meeting (under conditions detailed on pp. 1-2) to discuss and determine upon common action.”  (11th edition) page xxix

This is in contrast to consultative process:

  • “A consultative approach is a means of achieving stakeholder involvement and commitment. Decision making remains the responsibility of top leaders, but only after key stakeholders have been consulted. The results and how they are obtained are both important.” (quoted from this glossary.) “With a consultative style of management, a more paternalistic form is also essentially dictatorial. However, decisions take into account the best interests of the employees as well as the business. Communication is again generally downward, but feedback to the management is encouraged to maintain morale. It shares disadvantages with an autocratic style, such as employees becoming dependent on the leader.”

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:
diamond2

  • 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’.

9grounds
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]

Notes
[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.

Anxiety and innovation: working with the beyond of our double subjection

Title: Anxiety and innovation: working with the beyond of our double subjection
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Submitted for Publication – not to be quoted

The internet, like the printing press, railways and the telephone, has changed the way economies work. We are in the middle of an unfolding story that is not only changing what we understand an ‘organisation’ to be, but also changing the ways in which we experience ourselves as subjects. One theme that runs through these changes is that of the loss of sovereignty, whether at the level of the person, organisation or state. We are even less able to act as if we are ‘islands unto ourselves’ than ever before, as we encounter complex adaptive behaviours, emergence and quantum effects that challenge common sense itself. Within these turbulent environments, the ability to sustain a primary task definition of the organisation with its boundaries breaks down along with the organisation’s sovereignty. Under these circumstances, the object of psychoanalytic study ceases to remain focused on the structures of affiliation to the founding acts on which the identity of the organisation rest, extending to include the acts of innovation by which its clients are responded to one-by-one. ‘Boundary’ becomes the particular relation to the other client-patient-citizen and an object of psychoanalytic study itself. The paper proposes a return to Freud’s first model – his Project for a Scientific Psychology – as a way of considering how we are subjected to both the structure of our unconscious and to what-can-be-said that can make sense to the other. It further proposes that this double subjection has its parallel in the double subjection that follows from an affiliation to an organisation, through the valencies by which it lends support to our self-identification. This enables us to understand an organisation to be the social formation that rests ultimately on the structures with which it is identified and through which it interacts with the ‘others’ in its environment. To those identified with such an organisation, anxiety comes not only to warn them of possible failures to perform, but also of the possible failure of the structures of affiliation themselves, giving rise to the potential annihilation of support to their self-identification. Freud’s first model provides us with a way of approaching these two dimensions of anxiety, the potential for annihilation presenting a gap, in relation to which come opportunities for innovation. The paper draws conclusions about the forms of governance that can balance the defences against anxiety with the opportunities for innovation, and about the demands this places on leadership.

Download the full paper

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:

diamond1

  • 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:
diamond2

  • 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.

Notes
[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.

Parallel process and triple-loop learning

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
What lies at the heart of asymmetric leadership, through which the North-South bias can be balanced off by the relentless pursuit of an East-West imperative? I believe the reflexive process ‘behind the mirror’[1] is at the heart of this form of leadership.  Through reflexive process, the dynamic impact of unresolved dilemmas may be identified and worked through in parallel processes. Triple loop learning is a way of thinking how these parallel processes interact with each other under asymmetric leadership, enabling the organisation as a whole to respond dynamically to the demands arising in a complex environment.

Parallel processes
Parallel process is ‘brought forth’ by a reflexive process(5) engaged in by leadership ‘behind the mirror’.  In this process, dilemmas are looked for in the experience of clients(1). This identification with the experience of clients in their context(1) is crucial. From this reflexive process(5) come questions about the nature of the leadership process(4) that is shaping the nature of interventions(3) on the way the organisation works(2) in relation to its clients(1) within their domains of relevance(0):

The circular nature of the relationships between these layers becomes apparent if we relate them in the form of a learning cycle:
cycle3

  • 5->4 Reflective Observation: new dilemmas emerge in the experiences of clients in their contexts within their domains of relevance.
  • 4->3 Abstract Conceptualisation: this is the leadership/governance process by which the intent of the organisation is kept sustainable.[2]
  • 3->2 Active Experimentation: this is the approach management takes in intervening on the way the organisation works.
  • 2->1 Concrete Experience: this is the plan of action through the way the organisation works as a theory-in-use.
  • 1->0 Reflective Observation: this is what actually happens for the clients in their contexts.

Looked at as a cycle, three kinds of learning can emerge, depending on the extent to which the cycle is short-circuited.  This short-circuiting arises when a strategy ceiling forecloses certain kinds of questioning of the behaviour of the organisation:

  • single loop: changing how a chosen approach to interacting with a given environment is executed.
  • double loop: changing how the approach to interacting with any one environment is chosen in pursuit of given direct effects.[3]
  • triple loop: changing how the approach to interacting with any one environment is chosen in pursuit of given indirect effects.[4]

Relating this back to the parallel processes, the importance of  the reflexive process becomes apparent – without this capability an organisation does not have the means of questioning its own assumptions as a part of its own ways of creating value for its clients.[5]

Notes
[1] ‘Behind the mirror’ is a way of approaching what-is-going-on based on a metaphor with systemic family therapy. While an individual may be working with the family, a team observes what-is-going-on from behind a one-way mirror, trying to make sense of the family dynamics in ways that can support the individual working with the family. It is impossible to get an organisation in front of a one-way mirror (!) but the metaphor is used to indicate a certain kind of critical questioning of the relation between the observer’s interests and what is being observed.
[2] This is the ‘final cause’ of the organization’s behavior. The difference between the ‘reflective observation’ subject to this governance at 1->0 and at 5->4 is whether or not the governance processes are affiliated to an a priori intent, or an intent is able to emerge from an alliance with the client in which the value deficits experienced by clients come first.
[3] The direct effects are defined by a one-sided relationship to demand in which the value is inherent to the direct behaviors of the organisation.
[4] The indirect effects are defined by a multi-sided relationship to demand in which the value is inherent in the indirect behaviors supported by the direct behaviors of the organisation. See the asymmetric nature of multi-sided demand.  The implications of such an approach are that the organisation has to pursue a platform strategy in order to capture indirect value from the relationships between its different kinds of customer rather than solely direct value. See what distinguishes a platform strategy.
[5] This is not to say that this questioning does not happen – only that without a reflexive process, the learning has to take place ‘above the strategy ceiling’. This may work in relatively stable environments, but in complex turbulent environments such an ‘above-the-ceiling’ process does not enable the organisation to be sufficiently dynamically adaptive. See Tempo, Entanglement and East-West dominance.

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.
N-S-E-W
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.
ringsvwedges
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:
ringsvwedges2

  • 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]

Notes
[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.
diamond4
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.

The future work of ISPSO is the psychoanalytic study of organisations

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

Introduction
At this 30th annual meeting of ISPSO[1], it is my view that if ISPSO ceased to exist, it would have to be re-invented. There is too much of a future work yet to be done in the psychoanalytic study of organisations.  We need to work with:

  1. the existential dimension of anxiety, in which the very foundations and efficacy of our mental models are being called into question;
  2. the leadership of organisations in turbulent highly-networked environments, enabling their organisations to innovate continuously in response to their customers one-by-one;
  3. the courage necessary to putting ourselves on the line in order to do this kind of work; and
  4. the future generations, for whom each one of us must find in ourselves a response to these challenges.

I say “a work” in the sense of a life’s work or oeuvre, through which a person struggles to realise something felt to be true that can never be fully realised. In what follows, I want to say why I think this, but first, what exactly do I understand as constituting psychoanalytic insight?

The fundamental insight of psychoanalysis, which I attribute to Freud’s original work, is that we human beings are doubly subjected. We are subjected to the way in which we are able to construct meaning, to structures of signification, and we are subjected to our unconscious. Freud understood, in living this double subjection, that we human beings experience ourselves as most ourselves as subjects of the unconscious: “wo Es war, soll Ich werden[2]. And what does it mean to be ‘subjected’?  In our interactions with a structure, we are subjected to the extent that it constrains the ways in which we are able to act.  It follows from this double subjection that we are ourselves always implicated in any study we undertake.

Starting from this fundamental insight, we can ask what kind of a work this means for us, and why in particular this work involves the psychoanalytic study of organisations. A preliminary glance at the programme for this year’s annual meeting provides some preliminary clues. Words appear such as ‘not belonging’, ‘perverse solutions’, ‘climate change’, ‘ideology’, ‘containment’, ‘virtual organisation’, ‘gender relations’ and ‘betrayal’. These words indicate experiences that take place within the context of organisations. The experiences, however articulated, are of persons as subjects of their unconscious, and the contexts of which they speak are structures of signification.

The relation to anxiety
Emery and Trist give an account of work with the top management of a business in the aerospace industry that had been the outcome of a merger [3,4]. They had been asked to intervene because the top management had proved itself unable to collaborate in determining how to respond to a change in the technology associated with jet engines. Emery and Trist established that there were no deep incompatibilities between top management, nor was there stubborn adherence to past loyalties. It was their view, rather, that top management needed to engage in a collective re-appreciation of the whole situation faced by their newly-merged business. The conclusion of Emery and Trist was that there had been a flight into the personal dynamics arising between the members of the top management group and that this flight was from existential anxiety. This flight from existential anxiety, also referred to as annihilation anxiety, was preventing the group from engaging in the innovation needed to the changed situation facing the business.

The members of the top management group were in roles defined within the context of their newly-merged business.  There is nothing easy about taking up a role within an organisation and the demands for performance in a role are ever increasing and ever changing. Existential anxiety arises in the face of the possibility that the organisation-as-context will cease to exist in its current form, as with the aerospace case. It arises when an individual has difficulty even envisioning how his or her role might change, let alone knowing how to engage with changed circumstances. It is not surprising that the inability of the top management group to collaborate was originally identified with their ability to take up and perform in their roles.

In the last 30 years, ISPSO has learned much about how to work with the anxiety that individuals experience in seeking to take up and perform in their roles. Amongst all this learning, the group relations experience stands out as providing a unique approach to enabling individuals to learn about the way they authorise themselves within such contexts [5].  The challenge they faced, nevertheless, concerned the very existence of their organisation and not their relationships within it.  These were the conditions in which their existential anxiety arose.

Thus while performance anxiety is experienced within a given organisation-as-context, existential anxiety arises in situations where that given context is no longer experienced as effective or where there is no longer a given context.

  • The challenge of adding ways of working with this existential dimension of anxiety is a future work for ISPSO.[6]

The object of study
A recent project in the UK’s National Health Service has been examining the way a person’s experience of the end of their life is supported. Developing ways of aligning its own and others’ services to the person and their family context was not only highly valued by that person and their family, but also proved to be much less costly overall. Another organisation managing risk for a European car rental business was able to identify each vehicle at risk from pan-European flooding and take steps to mitigate that risk in each case. Again, aligning mitigating activities in this way proved to be much less costly overall.  In both cases, the object of study moves from being an organisation per se to being the dynamic performance of an ecosystem – sometimes referred to as a complex adaptive (eco-)system – in which a key consideration becomes its economics.

We are all aware of the huge impact that information technologies are having on organisations and whole industries. In these examples, the key difference is in being able to align services to client-customers one-by-one in a way that is dynamic. ISPSO’s object of study has been ‘the’ organis-ation, but under these new conditions the object of study becomes the dynamic organis-ing of activities. This is the distinguishing characteristic of Emery and Trist’s turbulent (highly-networked) environment which is ‘alive’ [7]. Not only must individuals be concerned with taking up a role within an organisation, but they must also be concerned with how the organisation takes up a role in the life of its client-customers. The organisation has to be able to organise many different ways of responding to its client-customers at the same time, ways that are constantly changing.

Information technology may be used to fragment and control, but it may also be used to enable the dynamic alignment of activities to situation and context. Using technology in this way means extending our understanding of leadership to include both the means and the potential impact of dynamic organis-ing.

  • Extending our understanding of leadership to include both the means and the potential impact of dynamic organis-ing is a future work for ISPSO.[8]

Psychoanalytic study
Returning to the way in which the psychoanalytic insight means that we are ourselves implicated in any study we undertake, it follows that psychoanalytic study demands that we consider how who-we-take-ourselves-to-be affects the ways in which we give meaning to our experience. We are ourselves invested in anything we do so that we can ask how it is that we ‘pay’ when engaging in psychoanalytic study.

  • One way in which we pay is with our time. Those of us that are paid by our clients or universities to study may recover some of this cost to ourselves, although even then it is rarely for all of our time.
  • Another way in which we pay is with words. Words are the medium in which we make meaning and those of us who work as analysts or writers know what a work it is to make meaning in this way. Rarely do we get paid for our words.
  • A third way in which we pay, which is the way that is most particular to psychoanalytic study, is to pay with our being. Winnicott, in speaking about the challenge of a case, spoke of the need for at least one person to be prepared to go beyond what they knew in order to respond effectively to the client’s situation[9]. This ‘going beyond’ is to pay with our being by putting ourselves ‘on the line’ or ’at risk’.

With this notion of ‘paying with being’ we return to the challenges of existential anxiety and the psychoanalytic ethic implied by taking up this challenge.  More than anything else, however, it is this preparedness to ‘go beyond’ that brings us together as an ISPSO community.

  • To continue to take up this challenge to our being is a future work for ISPSO.[10]

Paying it forward
ISPSO would have to be re-invented because its future work needs us to work together in finding new ways to work with existential anxiety, new understandings of our object of study, and new ways of taking up the challenge of psychoanalytic study. But more than this, in paying with our being we are paying it forward.

  • Our future work is for future generations, a work in which we must find it in ourselves to innovate.

Notes
[1] The ‘ISPSO’ is The International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations. This blog formed the basis for one side of a debate concerning the future work of ISPSO, held at the 30th Annual meeting of the Society at Oxford.  The other side of the debate as presented by Jim Krantz is here.
[2] Freud, S. (1964). New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. J. Strachey, Hogarth Press. XXII.
[3] Emery, F. E. (1976). Searching for New Directions. New Ways for New Times. M. Emery. Canberra, Australia, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University.
[4] Trist, E. (1977). “A Concept of Organizational Ecology.” Australian Journal of Management 2(2): 161-176.
[5] I have written elsewhere about some of the challenges faced by this way of thinking, particularly with respect to boundaries, authority and containment.
[6] For one approach to this other axis of anxiety, see Harari, R. (2001). Lacan’s Seminar on “Anxiety”: An Introduction. New York, Other Press.
[7] Emery, F. E. and E. Trist (1965). “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18: 21-32.
[8] For more on the challenges to leadership in these environments, see leading organisations without boundaries and the related paper on engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study.
[9] Winnicott, D. W. (1965). Training in Child Psychiatry. The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment, Hogarth.
[10] For a way of elaborating on this three-way distinction, see Lacan, J. (2006[1966]). The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of Its Power. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Co: [489]585-[542]648.

The Environment does not ex-sist: engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study

Title: The Environment does not ex-sist: engendering ‘boundary’ as the object of psychoanalytic study
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Submitted for Publication – not to be quoted

Digitalisation is changing the landscape in which organisations pursue their survival. There was a time when it was enough to provide a service efficiently and effectively. Now this is a necessary but no longer sufficient condition. There is an additional demand that services be provided in such a way that they are dynamically aligned to the individual customer’s situation. This pull towards dynamic responsiveness to customers one-by-one means that an organisation can no longer use markets to replace the environments beyond its boundaries in which its customers are to be found. What does this mean for an individual working for such an organisation? In this new landscape, the environment in general, i.e. THE environment, is replaced by many environments, each one being a customer situation demanding its own particular form of responsiveness. Under these conditions, the object of psychoanalytic study can no longer be the organisation per se, but rather must become the relationship of the organisation with each environment. So where does this leave an individual in the employ of an organisation? The paper describes what is different about the object of psychoanalytic study under these conditions and how this difference is reflected in the way an individual is able to understand what an organisation ‘is’. It does this by equating the exceptional role of Freud’s primal father with the founding act of an organisation, expressed in terms of the establishment of its primary task. In these terms, the object of psychoanalytic study is the law established in the name of the Father, defining the organisation’s boundaries and its structures of affiliation. Implicit in this founding act, however, is the relation of the organisation to that which remains radically Other to the founding relation. The paper argues that, in having to be responsive to its customers one-by-one, an individual working for an organisation has to take up a relation to this radical Otherness, a relation articulated by Lacan in terms of the sexual non-relation. This creates existential anxiety for the individual and new kinds of challenge to the governance of the organisation. The paper concludes by considering the consequences of this for our understanding of boundary, governance and the object of psychoanalytic study.

Download the full paper

Managing the risks of social disruption: what can we learn from the impact of social networking software?

Title: Managing the risks of social disruption: what can we learn from the impact of social networking software?
Author: Philip Boxer
Category: Published
Socioanalysis 15: 2013 (32-44)

Social media enable individuals to link together to form networks. These networks can cut across the boundaries of existing organisations to disrupt their existing ways of working. Three case examples are used to explore what is put at risk by these forms of social disruption. While existing ways of working may be disrupted, new possibilities may also be created. The paper uses Freud’s distinction between three kinds of identification to show how these disruptions may also evidence identifications of the third kind – identifications that give expression to new possibilities and new desires. The paper draws on a Lacanian understanding of how identification may be mediated by the effects of language. It argues that while identifications of the first two kinds may provide defences against anxiety, identifications of the third kind may provide support for creative responses to anxiety. The conclusion drawn is that in managing the risks of social disruption, individuals must work the relation between ‘above’ and ‘below’ the surface of their working relationships, but they must also work the relation between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the organisation with which they are identified.

Read the full paper here

GETTING BEYOND THE DEFENCES AGAINST INNOVATION