Reflexivity and experience

In previous posts discussing tools and techniques, Ralph has been drawing attention to the way in which the practice of management becomes reduced to instrumental rationality. One way of taking up insights from the complexity sciences in organisational terms is, similarly, also by using a two by two grid to decide if what you are dealing with is simple, complicated, complex or chaotic. So, simple means the domain of the known where cause and effect are well understood; complicated is the domain of the knowable, but with multiple sometimes competing components and where expert knowledge is required; complex is the domain of the unknowable where patterns are only discernible in retrospect, and chaotic is where there are no discernible patterns or order. The manager or leader should then decide which of these four quadrants they find themselves in and behave accordingly.

Aside from the difficulties arising from this loose interpretation of the complexity sciences, as usual with these matrices and frameworks it is assumed that it is the rational, autonomous, choosing manager standing outside the situation they are evaluating, who determines which quadrant s/he is in and takes the appropriate action. Under the guise of being rationally purposeful, this way of thinking appears to me to be radically subjective and splits thinking off from action, and the manager/leader off from those they manage. We have not moved very far from assumptions of predictability and control which are present in much contemporary management literature. Continue reading

Further thoughts on the tools and techniques of leadership and management

In this blog I hope to develop some of the points made in previous blogs on the tools and techniques of management. What is generally meant by the term ‘tools and techniques of leadership and management’ is ways of applying instrumental rationality to solve problems and control outcomes. In fact, in an ambiguous and uncertain world none of these tools and techniques can do what is claimed for them but they do constitute the techniques of disciplinary power which enable leaders and managers to control the bodies and bodily activities of
people in the organization. All of these tools and techniques take the form of rules, procedures and models. However, there is a difference between competent performance, on the one hand, and proficient, expert performance, on the other.
The difference is that following rules, procedures and models may produce competent performance, but proficient, expert performance requires moving beyond the rules, procedures and models. Management tools and techniques of
instrumental rationality may promote competence but the development of expertise is beyond them. Experts are unable to articulate the rules governing their performance because they simply do not follow rules; instead, as a consequence of long experience, they exercise practical judgment in the unique situations they find themselves in. Through experience they are able to recognize patterns, distinguishing between similarities with other situations and unique differences. The patterns they recognize are the emerging patterns of interaction that they and other people are creating. In other words, they are recognizing the emerging themes in conversation, power relations and ideology reflecting choices. The key resource any organization must rely on is surely this expert interactive capacity in the exercise of practical judgment
by leaders and managers. If we cannot identify rules, procedures and models  as ‘drivers’ of expert practical judgment, does it follow that we can say nothing about practical judgment and have to leave it as a mystery?

I do not think there is anything mysterious about the exercise of practical judgment and we can inquire into the exercise of practical judgment and explore whether it is possible to identify any ‘techniques’ of practical judgment. Continue reading

Thinking about the nature of the ‘tools and techniques’ that people ‘apply’ in the serious game of organizational life

I was prompted by the comments on my last blog on management tools and techniques to write this blog as a reply. I am struck by how strong the belief in tools and techniques is so that even though agreeing with what I said, there is an immediate move to talking about dynamic tools instead of static ones and claiming that there is scientific evidence for certain propositions about the development of the human mind allowing standard patterns to be mapped and measured. Of course what I wrote is contesting all of this and is certainly denying the assertion of a scientific base allowing us to know as a fact. Another comment asserted everything we do could be described as using a tool or technique. In this blog I will try to explain why I profoundly disagree with that statement. Then there is a comment by Chris Rodgers, most of which I agree with. What I am trying to talk about, however, is not about different prescriptions or ‘shoulds’ but rather with a way of thinking about what people are already doing in organisations.

Continue reading