Can we manage without the outdated rhetoric?

Alex Pollock

There is no law I can find that prevents organizations from being engaging, innovative, adaptable and bureaucracy free.

Yet as we bring our bodies and brains to work each day we often shake our heads with frustration and bewilderment as we observe high sounding corporate principles that bear no resemblance to day-to-day management practices. I read a statement recently that said it better than I could: “There is something going on today in our companies that depletes the natural resilience and creativity of human beings.”

What can we do in the EHS community to reverse this situation for our colleagues and reduce the gaps between rhetoric and reality? What are those misguided beliefs that we’ve grown up with? What are the beliefs are we creating that the next generation will likely abandon?

Some that come to my mind are:

  • Change starts at the top
  • It takes crisis to trigger a paradigm shift
  • Leaders get appointed and perform because on their relationship with those “above” them
  • Leaders must be served
  • Career advancement means promotion every few years
  • Titles matter
  • Forced ranking systems keep organizations refreshed
  • Annual “performance” awards keep people motivated
  • Competency profiles are necessary to get people fitting their job
  • Failure is bad for you

What outdated beliefs would you like to add to this list? What insights can you share that would close the rhetoric-reality gap?

About Alex Pollock

Alex Pollock has been studying leadership effectiveness for more than 30 years. A former leader in environment, health and safety, and public affairs at The Dow Chemical Co., he learned that we all have leadership roles to play. He enjoys discussing new ideas and sharing practical ways we can all become better leaders.

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  1. Bruce Klafter

    April 29, 2010

    I would like some Gen Yers to weigh in on this subject (assuming we have some represented in NAEM). Different doesn’t always mean better. While younger generations may respond “better” to different approaches, it still begs the question of how we achieve our corporate objectives whileproviding meaningful careers for the employee base.

  2. Aidan M. Casey

    May 15, 2010

    I’ve always felt the problem is that we as a nation, USA-wise, dismissed long ago the concept of a monarchy in governing our day to day lives. The corporate world, however, is still largely structured after the monarch / court system we’ve been indoctrinated from early on to find repugnant and subversive.

    I’ve found that the corporate environments with the best morale, are those with a more democratic, all-or-nothing, structure.

    The “chain of command” structure leads to a lack of innovation, in part, as creative people don’t relish their original ideas being claimed by their supervisors, who will then use their subordinates’ accomplishments to get ahead in the organization. Even in a democratic organized corporate entity, there will still be those who hold to the old ways – and they stand out, often unfavorably.

    Having department heads that hold roundtables to understand the needs / concerns / interests of other functional groups within the company are important. If your employees don’t completely buy-in to the company, they won’t see a reason to share their innovations, as they’re still dreaming of making it big themselves – not rocketing “their company” to new heights.

    Look at companies such as Google for how the non-traditional structure can be successful in achieving innovative breakthroughs.

  3. Alex Pollock

    May 18, 2010

    Thanks for you thoughts Aiden. Very interesting. I was reared in the UK and am familiar with the influence..or lack of influence..of monarchy.
    Art Kleiner in his book “Who Really Matters” has probed the issue of how organizations work. He points to the small group of people at the nucleus..the “Core Group” and says organizations exist to satisfy their needs whatever they may be…for good or ill. Sadly he says that “a depressing number of business corporations have evolved into organizations with one primary extract wealth from all constituents(not just the shareholders, but employees, customers and neighbors as well) and give it essentially to the children and grandchildren of its senior executives.”

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