Posted by Whistler 530 words
I was reading a paper about colonialism and the use of power, in this case violence, to coerce people into compliance. There is no need to understand people and negotiate when you have power, and the people subjected to the power soon stop trying to negotiate when they are being hit with a large stick. It crossed my mind that this is an extreme version of what happens periodically in local government.
The revolutionisation process brings in new leaders with positional power, which they often use to impose their will on the organisation. They know what needs to be done and what is best, that is why they have been put in charge. Through their actions it is apparent that they don’t believe the current organisational management has much to offer.
The recent post by Colin Weatherby suggesting that new CEO’s could hold a summit to gather ideas about how to improve the organisation before acting ignores this reality. CEO’s don’t have to engage or ask and they usually don’t.
I am sure they would say that they are ultimately accountable, therefore they need to do what they think is required. I don’t disagree with this view – they are accountable. But they don’t have to make these decisions without engagement with the rest of the organisation.
A colleague was recently talking to me about discussions occurring in their council about ‘strength-based’ management. It is picking up on a community development approach that focuses on the ‘assets’ that the community has available from each other, and their ability to meet their own and each other’s needs without relying on the council. It is premised on the idea that it is more sustainable for people to figure out how to help themselves than it is for government to make service consumers out of community members and create dependencies. Within an organisation, this idea could be mimicked by recognising that everyone has something to offer and tapping into it through meaningful engagement.
It would be the opposite of treating the organisation as a blank sheet that just needs someone cleverer from outside to come in and draw on it with their cronies. The colonial powers took this view with indigenous people and set about controlling them through the use of power. A ruling elite made all of the decisions without recourse to the general populace – many of whom were ‘contracted’ into a form of slavery anyway – and the potential for progress was limited by the ability of the ruling group.
Someone said to me recently that ‘ideas are like water’ at their council – they only move downwards – in a trickle and they are drought stricken.
At the end of the day, the CEO and top management will exercise power as they see fit and with little control. Councillors cannot see into the organisation and CEO’s are careful to make sure that their every need is met. The leaders of dysfunctional councils are often held in high esteem by their councillors and peers.
However, if power is used without the knowledge required to effect change that is positive, sustainable and creates community value, they will just perpetuate the cycle of ‘revolutionisation’ and be replaced by the next lot. It may have served their career well (every day top management who are failing leave for more senior roles elsewhere) but it will have done little for the organisation or the community.
Just like the colonial powers.
Breckenridge, Keith, 2008. ‘Power without Knowledge: Three Nineteenth Century Colonialisms in South Africa’, Journal of Natal and Zulu History, 26.