You get what you make!

I’ve had Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline since I was a rookie HR Practitioner. I saw it on my book shelf the other day and decided to thumb through it. I was glad I did, because I came across these extraordinary quotes by W Edwards Deming, the so-called father of the quality revolution, which I some how missed the first time round:

“…our prevailing systems of management have destroyed our people.”

“You get what you make!”

“We are here to make another world.”

Deming was referring to our propensity to treat organisations as work robotmachines. The notion that organising is a ‘scientific’ endeavour has its roots in the Western Enlightenment period but its legacy is still with us. Just reflect on the language we use today, to talk about ourselves.., “what levers can we pull to create change?”, “what’s wrong with the value chain?”, “we are a well-oiled team”, “they were firing on all cylinders”, “where was the break down?”, “here’s our blueprint for success”, “what needs re-engineering?”, etc.

Needless to say, organisations are made up of people not machine parts! In this connection, it is time to ditch the notion of management as the science of leading, and re-frame it as the art of organising. The latter emphases the humane nature of organisations, and draws from the knowledge we have about ourselves as conversationally competent human beings. From this perspective, communication and interaction processes are key to understanding organisations, and, consequently, to coordinating work, not only successfully, but more importantly, in ways that lead to life-giving communities and flourishing people.

Plans and goals don’t accomplish themselves. They are nothing until people get excited about them.  However, unlike machines, people have feelings and emotions. We can’t simply flip a switch to turn these on and off.  In this world, relational sensibilities trumps technical competence.

Deming was right, we do get what we make. Its time, therefore, to stop treating ourselves as machines. Let’s start making another world.


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