End of teachers’ book. The engineer of the humane corporation
Peter Senge has influence. The Fifth Discipline, which encapsulated Prof Senge's ideas about organisational change, personal development and more besides, has sold close to a million copies. The Society for Organizational Learning (SoL), these days the main focus of his energies, counts BP, Shell, Hewlett-Packard and Intel among its supporters. So, how did a business school academic - he remains a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management - end up pursuing an agenda that centres on 'the interdependent development of people and their organisations as responsible and effective global citizens'?
'Remember that my training is in engineering, not management,' he says. 'U trained as an engineer because iit was the best way of learning about systems. This field systems - seemed to me to address the problem: the world was becoming more and more interdependent, we were creating these patterns of interdependence, and yet we didn't know how to understand that. We were simply blind.'
Prof Senge's ambition remains to apply systems thinking to human systems: societies, organisations and companies. It was an urge that led him in the 1980s to seek out Chris Argyris, of Harvard Business School, and Edgar Schein of MIT Sloan leaders of the 'organisational development' movement. For Prof Argyris, this means persuading managers to question the politics, back-biting and 'defensive routines' that so negatively affect corporate life. For Prof Schein, it means recognising the importance of 'culture', the unspoken assumptions and established processes that dictate individual behaviour in organisations.
It was from this mix of ingredients that Prof Senge produced The Fifth Discipline. The first four disciplines are:
• 'personal mastery' (broadly, a commitment to your own and other people's full development)
• 'mental models' (reflecting upon and questioning assumptions)
• 'shared vision' ("a force in people's hearts')
• 'team learning' (or teamwork).
Systems thinking is the fifth discipline u way of thinking about problems that brings together the other ingredients and allows for real organisational development.
The influence of The Fifth Discipline is undeniable. As well as launching the 'organisational learning' movement, it gave new force to the argument that the most effective organisations are also the most humane. You do not need to be a true believer to acknowledge that the ideas are intriguing. They challenge managers to think deeply not only about their own role but also about corporate goals and purpose. The question is whether the techniques laid out in The Fifth Discipline have really helped organisations become more effective.
Prof Senge points to SoL's 'sustainability consortium', a group of companies working to take environmentally unfriendly materials out of their supply chains, as systems thinking and shared vision' in action. Others are less convinced. Says Prof Schein: 'It is by no means clear that making organisations more humane, making them worth being part of, will work in the larger Darwinian scheme of things.'
From the financial Times
US department stores launch counter-attack (31th page)
By Lauren Foster
As consumers demand better value and a more interesting and stimulating experience while shopping, (#5) department stores face a clear choice: adapt or die. 'My concern is that they will become retail museums/ says Britt Breemer, (#10) chairman of America's Research Group. The bottom line is that they have to admit they are in trouble and figure out some way to (#15) reinvent themselves. 'This may help to explain why four times as many households visit discount stores as department stores. (#20) Department stores face mounting competition from speciality retailers and discounters, such as Wal-Mart and Target. Their (#25) steady loss of market share may be partly because the concept was born in a different era, a time when, for families, a trip to the (#30) stores combined shopping with entertainment.
What is needed, say retail experts, is a new approach. A typical example of this (#35) approach working is seen at Selfridges. This UK group hat racast itself from a 'sleepy 1970-styte department store' Into a retailing experience fit for the 21st century, says Wendy Liebmann, President of WSL Strategic Retail. One of the main changes is (#45) that more floor space is rented to vendors, in what is sometimes referred to as the showcase business model: vendors design their own so booths and are encouraged to be creative. The Selfridges model, says Peter Williams, CEO of .Selfridges, is about creating (#55) an experience that is 'new, interesting and different' where it is not just the product that is different He says> the problem with US (#60) department btoies is that they Arnold Aronson, a management consultant, believes Selfridges could be a (#65) prototype for failing US department stores: 'It has brought back excitement and novelty and is really seducing customers by developing the (#70) right merchandise, in the right quantities at the right time.' Federated, which owns Macy's and Bloomingdale's, (#75) appears to be moving in the right direction. Forty-two stores are being upgraded with the latest components of its 'reinvent' strategy, (#80) including enhanced fitting rooms, convenient price check devices, comfortable lounge areas, computer kiosks and shopping carts. (#85) The challenge department stores face is how to develop in a sector that is, essentially, not growing. But if they adapt, many industry observers (#90) believe they will survive. 'The department store is not dead, it will live on,' said Robert Tamilia, Professor of Marketing at the University of (#95) Quebec. But it will not be the same animal it was before.'
From The Financial Times
The 1990s saw massive restructuring. Companies downsized and delayered, getting rid of levels of middlemanagement in order to become leaner, flatter, supposedly more efficient organisations. Often the reasoning was that computer networks allow top managers instant access to information that was previously gathered and transmitted upwards by middle managers, whose other main function was to communicate executives' key messages downwards to the workforce, and in this they were sometimes accused of diluting or confusing the messages, or worse. With fewer organisational layers, top managers say they can communicate more directly with front-line employees, the people who actually produce the goods or services and deal with customers. With less direct supervision, employees have often been encouraged to make more decisions for themselves in a process of empowerment.
Another trend was re-engineering,the idea that an organisation should not change incrementally,but should start again from scratch with no preconceptions about how things should be done, not just in manufacturing but in all the processes that contribute to what an organisation does, hence business process re-engineering,or BPR.
The human side of this, again, was that there would probably be redundancies.The people remaining would probably feel demoralised, wondering when the next wave of change was going to come and whether it would be their turn to be thrown out.
There has been a reaction to downsizing and BPR with the realisation that an organisation's most precious asset may well be its people and above all what they know. A company's accumulated knowledge and experience is part of company cultureand this is increasingly seen as a key to success. This collective knowledge is something to cultivate and develop and that it may be a good idea to have people around who have accumulated years of experience. Some companies have appointed a chief knowledge officerto create systems to make this intellectual capitalavailable to all employees via the company intranetfan internet-type system available only to the company). Knowledge managementis a new business skill, essential if an organisation is to achieve knowledge capitalisation- the most profitable application of the knowledge available to it.