Management through Magic Process

For those following my blogs, you know I am slowly working toward a better understanding of Organizational Biology.  This includes understanding how organizations achieve business objectives in either a productive or destructive manner.  The following ‘Phrankism‘ is written slightly tongue in cheek, I hope you enjoy this Magical-Post!

Stretch Goals versus Magical Process

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said: ‘Stretch targets energize. We have found that by reaching for what appears to be the impossible, we often actually do the impossible; and even when we don’t quite make it, we inevitably wind up doing much better than we would have done.‘

These are good words but are unfortunately subject to abuse by those lesser than Mr. Welch. The dark side to a stretch goal/target is ‘Management through Magical Process’ or Magic. This is where

An organization (collectively or an individual) engages in an activity without sufficient consideration of its readiness or resources to achieve the objective. Success comes at either the expense of pre-existing objectives or Management through Heroics. Failure to deliver magic leads to the punishment of the innocent, organizational numbing, martyrdom and quickly moving to the next magical task.

Dilbert images and other content is copyright Universal Uclick and/or its creators.

Dilbert images and other content is copyright Universal Uclick and/or its creators.

 Magic Defined

The above definition is a mouthful, so a bit of explanation.

This is where an organization (collectively or an individual engages in an activity without sufficient consideration of the organizational readiness or resources to achieve the objective.’: realistically this means the senior management or leadership of an organization.  Don’t try magic at home – or at a junior manager level.  Also, good magic relies on illusion and subterfuge.  As a result, you know you are in a magical-situation when the person doing the asking glosses over questions of organizational capacity.  Hearing things like “don’t bore me with the details; I don’t sweat the small stuff; that is adminis-trivial that does not concern me” are pretty good indicators you have a magical process in your inbox.

Success comes at either the expense of pre-existing objectives…’: past crises de jour, previous magical-management requests or solid organizational objectives are swept aside or expected to be completed in addition to this new request.

‘…or Management through Heroics; …’: Management through heroics is when the body-corporate takes extraordinary measures to achieve things.  Evening and weekend work, calling in extra resources or sacrificing elements of the organizations (e.g. selling off assets) are examples.  Sometimes extraordinary times require heroics.  Recent examples include a typhoon in the Philippines or flooding in Southern Alberta.  The problem is when the extraordinary becomes the new normal.  Magical organizations seldom are aware, remember or quite frankly care how many soccer games or family events a person has missed – as long as the person continues to do so and is prepared to make larger sacrifices next time.

Failure to deliver magic leads to the punishment of the innocent, organizational numbing, martyrdom ….’  If the body-corporate of the organization cannot arise to the occasion, blame and punishment is meted out usually to the innocent.  Assuming the individuals do not leave the organization, this results in either numbing or martyrdom.  Numbing is the effect of indifference and apathy amongst the staff and is the opposite of excellence.  Martyrdom is an even more worrying consequence in which people fall into a dysfunctional relationship with the organization.  While the numb can be identified by their pension days counting or zombie like appearance, the martyr can often be identified by the distinctive and oft repeated call of ‘worked last weekend – again; stayed to midnight – again; I am so busy’.

…and quickly moving to the next magical task.’  The key to a good Magic show is the spectacle and the pace of the performance; Management through Magical Process is no different, but a bit of organizational amnesia helps.  So, taking it from the top:

  1. Senior Management show their mettle by assigning impossible work via Magical Process…
  2. The martyrs and the numb dutifully change organizational direction… until the next Magical assignment comes along to replace this one… or until through heroic effort the task is completed.
  3. The new and the dumb ask about organizational capacity.  Typically they are silenced by the group-think of the organization.
  4. The new staff-members who don’t conform to the magical cultural norms of the organization leave the organization.  The numb trudge onto the next activity and the martyr complains about how busy they are but perhaps look forward to the next crisis.

Beyond the Magic

Taking my tongue from my cheek, sometimes organizations need to use heroics to get things done.  Under the right conditions, stretch goals can lead to dramatic success (think about the Apollo program) and most people are neither a martyr nor numb.  Organizations are living entities that are staffed by good people; good people will try to rise to the occasion (as seen last summer during the Southern Alberta flooding) but this is a trust that must not be abused.  Doing so numbs the organization and creates a corporate culture that cannot focus on excellence (martyrdom is optional).

What are your thoughts on the Management through Magical Process (tongue in or out of cheek)?  Be sure to read about other Phrankisms.