Conference Update: Is RO Ethical?

Forrest ChristianGO Conference, Theory 3 Comments

Another in my belated series of summaries of the GO Society conference in Toronto, Ontario.

There was a special plenary-style session on “Ethics and RO” after dinner Tuesday night. It was an interesting discussion, partly because there were definitely different value sets in the audience. If it got recorded, I doubt that it would be useful: there was a lot of noise and the sound would be poor.

Still, a document of concerns or questions came out of it. Check the GO Society website for it. The conversation was interesting surrounding it.

I also went to the session on ethical issues led by John Bryan. Although we all prepared an ethical dilemma to be worked, we got so involved in the first one, from David Boals, that we didn’t get to any others. Boals raised an issue from back when Career Path Appreciations were newish.

A hospital system contacted him to do CPAs on their personnel so that they could do the RO warroom (described in Jaques & Clement’s Executive Leadership) and track their personnel. He felt that it was a dilemma in that on the one hand, he wanted to learn more and practice CPAs and earn money. On the other hand, he felt that providing managers with this information without providing it to the personnel themselves.

It was a robust discussion. I think especially so since I think that not everyone would have seen this as a problem, yet they were still willing and interested in addressing it from Boal’s point of view. I found the discussion extremely profitable for my own (albeit non-RO) consulting with clients. Check the GO Society website for the feed when it comes up. You’ll want to take a look at it (as long as the sound came through).

One last point: I never actually contributed my ethical problem that night. It seemed kind of pretentious. But here it is; perhaps you have some thoughts.

Is it ethical to implement a system that is so fragile that it will not survive a change in management? Is it ethical to show people a fair way of living when it can’t survive normal wear and tear?

Comments 3

  1. Have you read Art Kleiners “The age of heretics”. In contains many stories of organizational change that did not withstand later change of management or “normal wear and tear”. Reading it really depressed me.

    I do think that it is ethical to implement a system that has the support of management, employees and the owners. If it is sound then all will have learning and experience even if things eventually go back to the old. What has been learned will hopefully be useful as people move on to other places.

    What is sad is the large numbers of managers( and consultants) that are uneducated in the field of management and have no sound theory of organisation and development. They are just stuck with their own narrow experiences of what has worked for them.

    Giving such persons managerial positions without providing them with the education and tools to do their job properly is truly unethical.

  2. Forrest,

    It is interesting to see your impressions of our session — one that I found informative as well. In discussion after the session, several colleagues who had done work with CPA noted that they had experienced similar reservations. I must admit that I remain unresolved on the issue.

    With regard to your very interesting question:

    I’ve experienced a good deal of this issue working in the U.S. Army due to the limited (2 to 3 year) tours of duties for officers. This experience has left several impressions.

    First, my strong impression is that no change in organization is ever permanent, whether the result is “fragile” or not. I’m not sure that any system of organization, particularly in our current dynamic period, is so robust as to survive a change in management or “normal wear and tear” based solely on its own intrinsic strengths. At some point, either from the effects of entropy or purposeful action, any set of organizational arrangements will degrade. However, in cases of healthy arrangements, this change is very rarely global. Some aspect of positive organization will usually remain, and some will persist for quite a long while. For this reason, I’ve come to feel that the effort to foster improvement is worth the trouble for those involved.

    Second, the people working in organizations are decidedly not a passive audience. They will work to preserve positive arrangements where they are able to do so. In point of fact, and a sad reality for we who try to be change agents, they will work to preserve poor arrangements simply because they are familiar and secure.

    I find the inverse of your question interesting, as well. Would it be more ethical to not attempt implementing a more positive system? Is it more ethical for management to consciously work to preserve the current level of suffering in their organization, in anticipation that any improvements that they implement will ultimately degrade?

    As I said, you’ve asked a very interesting question. Thanks.

  3. Regarding the ethical use of ‘external’ (i.e. external to the line of management and/or external to the company)assessment:
    It may be surprising for your readers to know that Sir Roderick Carnegie banned the use of such assessments in CRA. Later attempts (after Carnegie had left) to introduce these assessments were also refused by the executives (other than for private, personal development use). CRA basically ‘mobilised’ the judgement of its managers (i.e. immediate managers and MoRs) in the assessment of employee capability – both in terms of current applied capability (i.e. can he/she do their current job) and current potential capability (i.e. by the MoR). CRA achieved this using some fairly simple processes/systems as well as ramping up managerial leadership practices (it is clear that manager skill and experience in task assignment and performance management provide a necessary foundation for judgement of capability). We interviewed Sir Roderick for the 2005 GO conference. The longer, unedited version of the tape records his sentiments and reasoning on this subject. I will not attempt to speak for him and give those reasons here.
    We have often heard the complaint that ‘managers can’t be trusted to make such judgments’ given as justification for using a science-based measurement tool. We should bear in mind that the existing tools are at a remove from the work being done; they imply an ability. The levels theory-based tools that we know about have not be correlated to ability to do work but have good face value. Faulty or not, the manager’s judgment is that of the primary observer – certainly with regard to the assessment of current applied capability (CAC) by the immediate manager.
    CAC brings me to another point here, though related to assessment interpretation rather than ethics. We have noticed some people in the field (e.g. consultants and employers that have had external assessments done) confusing current applied capability (CAC) with current potential capability (CPC). External assessment tools cannot assess CAC – only the immediate manager can do this. The external assessment tools assess (one way or another) CPC and/or mode. If an employer thinks that CPC is CAC (i.e. that the ‘hypothetical’ capability is the actual ability to do the current job) this will obviously be harmful – to the individual, those to be managed by the individual and the company. Such mis-application will also bring disrepute to levels theory and RO.

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