Monday, 30 August 2010

Do We Work Better for Causes or People?

Positive psychology (psychologists studying the psychology of success) has become very interested in organisational capacity to tap into what they often refer to as the "added discretionary effort" of the people. Is it the the cause or company that is the driving force, or is it the relationships and the connections, that make an organisation truly successful?

One position is that people join good companies (or causes) but often leave because of poor management or decision-making. All the money, time and effort spent recruiting and training an employee, as well as their unique knowledge, can easily be lost. Another position is that good managers are worth their weight in gold, particularly where the organisation itself is weak on either process or people-management. In the war film, "Black Hawk Down", director Ridley Scott offers his view through the words of lead US marine, Hoot:

"When I go home people'll ask me, "Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?" You know what I'll say? I won't say a goddamn word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."

Rather cliched some might say, but also a true reflection of what keeps people pulling together. On the downside, even where it is a dubious or lost cause, as history has witnessed many times, people can continue to pull together.

The organisation having the ability to intervene where there is blind loyalty, to encourage intelligent critique, innovation or better practice, as much as the capacity to create cohesive team spirit, requires certain learning processes as well as accompanying "soft" skills. Unsurprisingly, many of these processes were developed for the military, through activities such as "Wash-Ups" between task forces following certain operations, in order to identify what went well and what could be learned from. These, along with many others are now utilised to leverage not only continued loyalty, or added discretionary effort even, but importantly improved practice and innovation. Whether it's the people or the cause that is more influential is still very much open for debate and so I'll leave it up to you the reader to decide which matters most to you. Ultimately, they both count in encouraging added discretionary effort.

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