Mimicking a Statue, (c) 2012 Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0). Via flickr.

Tell the World, Because They Won’t Be Able To Copy You

Forrest ChristianOrganizations, Strategy Leave a Comment

What is important to recognize now is why success, such as that achieved at Southwest, can be sustained and can not readily be imitated by competitors. There are two fundamental reasons. First, the success that comes from managing people effectively is often not as visible or transparent as to its source…. Even when they are described…, they are difficult to understand. Culture, how people are managed, and the effects of this on their behavior and skills are sometimes seen as the “soft” side of business, occasionally dismissed. Even when they not dismissed, it is often hard to comprehend the dynamics of a particular company and how it operates because the way people are managed often fits together in a system. It is easy to copy one thing but much more difficult to copy numerous things. This is because the change needs to be more comprehensive and also because the ability to understand the system of management practices is hindered by its very extensiveness. [pp. 17-18 in Jeffrey Pfeffer, 1994, “Competitive Advantage Through People”, California Management Review, Winter 1994, pp. 9-28.]

I’ve made this argument about companies using Requisite systems before. It doesn’t matter how much you talk about the success you get from using these ideas and structures. Because they require a change in the way that managers think (and in their values), it is almost impossible to copy. A company based on Ape Politics cannot implement RO or even reduced RO because it requires them to create an organizational reality that is higher than they are currently operating on. (I’m taking for granted that Ape Politics operate at the pre-Stratum 1 quintave, or lower.)

Target and WalMart are very open about the systems that they have in place to increase their productivity. So why aren’t all their competitors implementing the same? Because it requires a different group of people, especially at the top, with a very different set of values than those that made the current management successful, your competitors won’t be able to copy you. The success of requisitely organizing the company works the same.

You just have to be careful that you don’t do what Brian Dive did, as described in his book, The Healthy Organization. Dive spends a lot of time arguing that you can’t organize around how you feel or your preconceptions. You have to be rigorous in vetting solutions, finding a the scientifically accurate solution. Then, when confronted with Jaques’s development curves, he and his colleagues examined their own careers, didn’t like what it meant for them, and said that it must be hogwash.

You have to be willing to confront your own issues, your own values, your own need to dominate and control.

Later, I’ll examine how to organize in a modified Wilfred Brown way that solves some of the Ape Politics problems that Jaques’s Requisite Organization ignores.

See Also:: Why You Can Tell Your Big Secret To Success (they can’t copy it anyway)

Mimicking a Statue. &copy 2012 Michael Coghlan (CC BY 2.0). Via flickr.

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