“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
~ Mark Twain
When I’m explaining the Synergistic mindset to people, I’m often struck by the degree to which folks root their understanding in that which they know. Even though just about every aspect of the Synergistic mindset differs one hundred and eighty degrees from what most people regard as “normal” (i.e. aspects of the Analytic mindset).
One example came up during a Twitter conversation earlier this week, which I thought might make an interesting case in point.
We all love the idea of promotions, don’t we? A reward for a consistent job well-done. Some folks live for their next promotion. But in the synergistic mindset, promotions are a vice, not a virtue. A sign of some significant dysfunctions.
1. violent or tumultuous motion; agitation; noisy disturbance.
2. political or social disturbance or upheaval; sedition; insurrection.
Promotions are, by definition, extrinsic rewards. As such, there is much research to show that they demotivate the recipient. (See e.g. Dan Pink’s book “Drive”).
Promotions perpetuate the idea of hierarchy. Job positions, and the idea of “moving up the ladder” reinforce the notion of hierarchy within organisations. Hierarchy is a hallmark of Analytic-minded organisations, and is so ubiquitous as to be rarely noticed, let alone questioned. Yet, hierarchy is a core dysfunction of the Analytic organisation, enshrining as it does the notion of separating things into parts (and sub-parts, and so on) in the mistaken belief that optimising the parts will lead to an optimal whole (as Ackoff showed us, the reverse is in fact the case). Hierarchies also inevitably follow the Iron Law of Oligarchy.
Promotions increase alienation within the workplace. Many highly competent, highly qualified individuals are often passed-over for promotion for a number of reasons. More often than not, promotion decisions are made within and by the existing Core Group, and for reasons little to do with competency, productivity, etc. but along much more nepotistic lines.
Promotions contribute to the Peter Principle. That is, they help contribute to having people occupying positions in which they are ineffective at best, and often, incompetent.
Promotions run contrary to the principles of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If other folks are deciding your future, this reduces autonomy. If you’re striving for mastery of a skill or skill-set, then who but you is best placed to decide where you are on that journey? And if you have found an engaging purpose, what chance the purpose will remain as valid in a different position – often in a different business unit or job role?
Promotions signify a lack of imagination, misunderstanding of human motivation. Progressive organisations believe that recognising folks and their efforts leads to better morale, engagement and thus productivity. Research shows this can be so. But why not recognise folks directly? Why conflate the whole process with the idea of promotion? Are organisations so lacking in imagination that they cannot find means to effectively recognise people, and mark significant points in their progression towards e.g. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose?
So, does anyone have a good word to say for promotions, aside from the fact that you might like one, soon? (Wry smile).