Adam names the animals

Name It to Change It, Because You Can’t Change What You Can’t Talk About

Forrest ChristianManaging, Warren Kinston 1 Comment

If you want to succeed at a creative project — and all change projects are — you will need to be particular about naming. As Dr. Warren Kinston has shown in his (please oh please soon) to be published framework on Creative Team Endeavors, naming is key. Wilfred Brown and Elliott Jaques emphasized in their works about Glacier Metal Company. Management is full of bad, fuzzy terms. Real science knows that you have to get particular in order to get something controlled.

(Yes, you can take this too far. That’s for a later post.)

It was a ironical email from Warren that got me thinking about this again. He was looking for some copyediting of some of his documents. One of the replies was fascinating:

I did some research on THEE and Warren Kinston and, quite frankly, it doesn’t work as an ontology or framework for human management. Management does not need to be this complex to work. You simply pay people a decent salary, coach them to take risks, nurture their careers, and treat them fairly in all dealings. That’s all and there is no need to be philosophical about it.

It all sounds great until you think about it. The problem is naming and definitions, the problems of Universal Language.

Who would not want to follow these principles? The problem comes in their meaning. Universal language like this gets lots of agreement because it doesn’t actually say much. When you start talking about implementation, you start seeing the problems.

Let’s take a look at them.

“Pay people a decent salary”

Elliott Jaques and his coworkers discovered how we really didn’t have any idea how to pay people. They created a scientific method which, bizarrely, was felt as being fair by the people who received the pay. They saw that work came in different levels, and each level had a particular multiplier indicating what people felt would be fair for that work.

They called this “felt-fair pay”. It’s a fundamental part of any compensation system based on Stratified Systems Theory or Requisite Organization.

Most people don’t know about this. Most people aren’t paid fairly.

I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t what she meant. But you can see how naming this properly, and giving it a definition, gives you something to respond to.

“coach them to take risks”

I used to coach people to not take risks. I taught Chemical Emergency Response and OSHA Workpace Safety, two areas where you want people to avoid risktaking.

So you might not want to do this.

It all depends on what “risk” means.

The more I think about this, the more I’m pretty sure that this is another one of this silly platitudes that we say but have no idea what we mean.

I’m saying that this one needs more than naming: it needs an idea behind it.

“nurture their careers”

Elliott Jaques and Wilfred Brown would disagree, and in an important way. But this is at least generally correct.

The job of the manager is the performance of his direct reports, not their careers. You should not be nurturing the careers of your direct reports.

That’s the job of your boss, their “manager once removed”.

And sometimes that telling people that they have outgrown the job, there’s nothing bigger in the firm, and they should move on.

In the end, your career may require some guidance and some mentoring. But you don’t nurture a career. You nurture a person.

“treat them fairly in all dealings”

This sounds great. Who doesn’t want things to be fair? Yet it is the most problematic of all.

What is “fairly”? Who decides this?

Gallop’s research showed that Great Managers aren’t fair: they treat everyone differently. What is a mild reproach for you may devastate me. Kidding that some find makes the workplace more fun and enjoyable is treated as harassment by others. Fair is, it seems, relative.

Albeit with some constants.

One of the great uses of what Warren has discovered is that it allows me to treat people more fairly. We tend to think that everyone is like us, thinks like us, that our ways are the right ones. This often leads us to bad things.

A few years ago, I worked with a software architect who would have totally agreed to what this person wrote. He also, when I said that he couldn’t design something that the people in the client’s culture would reject, said that the other developers would do it this way or “they can get fired”. (His project failed and it was, of course, those recalcitrant developers whose long-proven methods he was trying to monkey with.) He could not imagine that other people could think differently.

Even a single framework of THEE helps with this. If you read Strengthening the Management Culture, you will read about the seven decision making styles. One of them will feel the right, perfect way. Two or three others will feel flawed acceptable. About two will feel totally anathema.

I’ve been looking at those for three years and I still feel a couple of the styles are moronic. Only an idiot would use these! Of course, I can use the framework to see that they are valid, and valid in places my style isn’t. They still feel wrong, but I can use my intellect to understand how they are valid.

I stop trying to get everyone to be like me.

Elliott Jaques and Wilfred Brown wrote about similar things with the different work levels. There is nothing demeaning about work at a level lower than you. It may demean you but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be right fitting work for someone capable at that level of work. Treating a job as “menial work” demeans the role, and demeans the person in it.

All work should have dignity. All workers should have dignity. Creating a truly dignity-creating culture can be done naturally, but our “fallen nature” often gets in the way, and destroys the good that could exist. It takes all seven of the decision making styles to create a truly strong, dignity-enhancing corporate culture.

And that’s not easy.

Tools like some of the THEE frameworks can help because they help us name the problem. When I name our disagreement as “you use Rationalism and I use Imaginist decision making styles” rather than “you’re obstructionist”, we both benefit. Naming matters.

NOTE: Kinston’s THEE is indeed an ontology (and would be even if it had no relation to reality) and it really does work as a framework that describes the human element in human endeavors. The map is not the territory, but it’s a whole lot easier to not get lost when you have one.

Comments 1

  1. I suggest there is a lot semantical here. The basics are covered and the fact that the descriptor does not exactly fit some universal language ought to bring legitimacy to requisite recognizing someone other than Elliott has made similar observations and assertions.

    With respect to risk I will argue (I am certain you are surprised that I will argue) that we do not want people to avoid taking risks (as they might be inclined to do absolutely nothing) but rather should encourage that they accurately assess the risks and then manage them.

    One of the biggest problems in the workplace is the inability to exercise the appropriate discretion at the appropriate level. There is far too much micromanagement.

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