Talking about what we do?

October 22, 2007

Johnnie’s asking some great questions this week. On Friday he asked:

Obviously, this is too simplistic.
But I have this question for anyone who’s got some process to manage human beings in organisations. You know the sort of thing… a process to set and manage coaching; a format for efficient meetings; a form for 360 feedback, an assessment “tool” for interviews.
Does this process bear any resemblance to how you actually relate, in your own life, to anyone whom you love? (eg how you chose your spouse, how you treat your children etc etc)
And if not, why not?

And he followed it up today with:

I think a lot of organisations create complicated processes in an effort to systematise human relationships. These processes generate what a friend calls a “corporate nod”, the kind of assent that really means “yeah, I’ll play along” and not “yes, I love that idea”.
Of course, any organisation needs its procedures but there seems to be an impulse to create too many of them, and too complicated. A personal peeve of mine are “evaluation forms” at the end of events. These seem to encourage an evaluative rather than participative mindset – where people are invited to assess whether it “worked” (on a 5 point scale) instead of engaging live in making it work at the time.
One fine day, I’ll announce that I won’t read those feedback forms – to emphasise how much more valuable it is to get live engagement from people taking risks to make things work in the here and now. Probably on the same day I’ll kick off a creative thinking meeting by saying, “Could we all embrace the possibility that nothing useful may come of this meeting? That way, we can all stop trying to control what happens, relax and probably create an atmosphere that’s actually more likely to see something useful emerge.”

The comment stream is just as interesting and to the latter one I added the following:

I’m with you on the evaluation forms for all of the reasons you outline, and because they take no account of the responsibility people have to participate or not – as if it is all in the hands of the facilitator/trainer to produce the goods. However those of us who are process consultants/facilitators have to be able to talk about what we do in ways other than just ‘trust me’ which I see a lot of consultants reverting to in the absence of something more robust…I am thinking out loud as I write this but there has to be something in between ‘trust me’ and ’10 sure fired ways to control anything that moves so you can guarantee certainty’ kind of approaches…

I’ve been having this conversation on and off with several people in the last few weeks – the certainty/uncertainty paradox..clinging to a defined outcome rarely delivers what it promises because most of the time the problem isn’t the problem. Then how do we talk about what we do if we’re not talking about what our clients want to hire us for? All of a sudden I feel the need to talk to a Knowledge Manager.