The disciplines of Organizational Practice – Organizational Development, Human Resources and Management Consulting – that grew up during the Industrial Era share a fundamentally engineering-oriented view of their work. Engineers work on machines, and their relationship with the machine they are working on is irrelevant to their ability to control the efficiency of that machine. Just as the role of Leadership is in flux in the emerging (post-Industrial) economy, so too is the role of the Organizational Practitioner. Organizational Practice in the 21st century must be fundamentally grounded in the understanding that we work with Human Beings – not Human Capital or Human Resources or Talent or any of the other abstractions we use to avoid addressing the whole persons that make up the organization. A Practitioner’s relationship with the Human Being they are working with is central to their ability to influence the effectiveness of that Human Being.
We continue to train Practitioners to work with abstractions, with parts of the ‘human machine’ (skills, beliefs, motivation, etc.) as if any of these existed in and of themselves, as if they were discreet ‘things’. Motivation is not a ‘thing’ folks, it is an aspect of certain kind of relationship. Leadership is not a thing, and it is not person-centric; Leadership is emergent and occurs only in relationship, only as a systemic phenomena. Of course, we train practitioners in abstractions because:
We’ve created literally thousands of models of Leadership and just as many assessments over the past 50 years; the same for ‘motivation’, and ‘engagement’, and ‘satisfaction’ and countless other aspects of human experience in organization. Are we even an inch closer to making the emergence of Leadership – or motivation, engagement or satisfaction – more predictable in organizations? If you think the answer is yes, then ask yourself why we haven’t come anywhere even remotely close to settling on a single set of dimensions. The study of anything that can be made controllable, repeatable and predictable very quickly uncovers at least some basic dimensions that all researchers and practitioners agree on; the understanding of these dimensions certainly evolves and occasionally there is a major reversal of an accepted ‘fact’, but for the most part one can track a linear increase in understanding of the topic. This is the very nature of any Science. Yet this is not our experience with certain critical aspects of Organizational Practice. Perhaps this is so because Organizational Practice is not exclusively a Science, but also an Art; and it benefits from a approach that allows for not only the structured, planful, objective approach of engineering but also the loose, spontaneous, highly subjective approach of improvisation.
What would this require? How do we create environments in which Organizational Practitioners develop not only as Scientists but as Artists?