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Ethics

Factors of Top Performing Businesses

In order of biggest influence (biggest first):

  1. Luck.
  2. Graft a.k.a. criminality.
  3. Unethical practices.
  4. Rape of the planet.
  5. Friends in high places.
  6. Effective shared assumptions and beliefs.

Luck

Most entrepreneurs admit that their success is largely down to luck. Being in the right place at the right time, and so on.

Graft

Criminal enterprises such as Enron or Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities are widely known. Graft on relatively smaller scales is widespread as a business strategy or tactic.

Unethical practices

Unethical practices such as stealing from employees, explotation of employees or customers, rape of pension funds, unethical marketing practices, and so on are so widespread as to be common practice.

Rape of the planet

Many businesses inflate their profits through appropriation of natural resources (water, forests, carbon deposits, minerals, etc.).

Friends In high places

Favourable treatment by e.g. regulators or legislators can lead to increased profits, revenues, etc., if you know the right people from whom or via whom to secure such favours.

Effective shared assumptions and beliefs

Way down at the bottom of my list is actually running the business effectively. Little wonder then that all the other options listed here seem much more common as strategies for “success”.

Most of the options listed here reside more or less outside the control of the businesses in question. Luck is rarely in the control of the protagonists. Graft risks prosecution and sanctions such as jail. Unethical practices risk alienating customers. Rape of the planet risks alienating society, more than ever nowadays. Friends in high places relies on having such friends, and avoiding scrutiny of such relationships.

Only the last option in the list confers some degree of integrity. But then when did integrity ever count for much in business?

– Bob

A Conducive System

[Tl;Dr: What are the system conditions that encourage ethical – and productive, effective – behaviours (Cf William Kingdon Clifford) in software delivery organisations?]

In yesterday’s blog post “The System Is Unethical” I related my experiences of how businesses – and the folks that run them and work in them – remain ignorant of just how ineffective they are at software delivery. And the consequences of that ignorance on e.g. costs, quality, customer satisfaction, etc

To recap: an unethical system perpetuates behaviours such as:

  • Failing to dig into the effectiveness of the organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Indifference to the waste involved (wasted time, money, opportunities, human potential,…).
  • Ignorance of just how much more effective things could be, with e.g. a change in perspective.
  • Bravado and denial when questioned about such matters.

The Flip Side

Instead of the behaviours listed above, we might seek a system that encourages behaviours that include:

  • Continual attention to the effectiveness of the organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Concern over the waste involved, and actions to reduce such waste.
  • Investigation into just how much more effective things could be.
  • Clarity and informed responses when questions about such matters.

Conducive System Conditions

So what might a system conducive to such behaviours look like?

That’s what my book “Quintessence” illustrates in detail. But in case you’re a busy person trapped in a non-conducive system, I’ve previously written about some of the key aspects of a conducive system, here:

Quintessence For Busy People

BTW I’m always happy to respond to your questions.

– Bob

 

 

 

 

The System Is Unethical

Or at least, it’s “the system” that sits at the root of the unethical behaviours costing software delivery organisations £££millions annually. And it’s the culture of an organisation that defines that system.

Many years ago I wrote a White Paper titled “All Executives Are Unethical”. This paper riffed on a theme from Seth Godin – “All Marketers are Liars”. And channeled the ethical arguments of William Kingdon Clifford:

…whatever someone chooses to believe cannot be exempt from the ethical judgement of others.

In the aforementioned White Paper, I spoke of the ethics of executives, and in particular the folks that make the decisions about committing to improvements (or maintaining the status quo) in software delivery.

It’s been my experience over the course of thirty-plus years, that said executives act as if they believe their software delivery capability has little need, or scope, for improvement. Acting as if investing in improving said capability has little to no payback, and little to no impact on the organisation’ top line or bottom line.

It’s The System

Bill Deming famously wrote:

The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.

~ W.E. Deming quoted in Scholtes, PR 1998 ‘The leader’s handbook: making things happen, getting things done’ McGraw-Hill, London p 296

Some readers of my aforementioned White Paper may have inferred I was criticising individual executives for their shortfall in ethics. Not at all. These folks work in “systems” as much as everyone else. It’s the system that drives their behaviours. Behaviours such as:

  • Failing to dig into the effectiveness of their organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Indifference to the waste involved (wasted time, money, opportunities, human potential,…).
  • Ignorance of just how much more effective things could be, with e.g. a change in perspective.
  • Bravado and denial when questioned about such matters.

And it’s not limited to executives. Most advisors and practitioners (coaches, developers, middle managers, etc.) are equally ignorant, indifferent, flippant and slow to inquire.

Organisational Psychotherapy – and in particular, Memeology – offers a means to being addressing the shortcomings of the system, and thus bring about changes in folks’ behaviours.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). All Agilists Are Unethical. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2021/12/23/all-agilists-are-unethical/ [Accessed 30 May 2022].
Seddon, J. (2015). 95% of Performance Is Governed By The System. [online] Vanguard Consulting Ltd. Available at: https://beyondcommandandcontrol.com/library/dr-demings-aphorisms/95-of-performance-is-governed-by-the-system/ [Accessed 30 May 2022].

All Agilists are Unethical

Are all Agilists unethical? This post argues that, absent objective evidence, it’s simply unethical for Agilists to claim that product and software development in the Agile fashion is reasonably effective.

The Ethics of Belief

London, April 11, 1876. There is uproar in the House. But this is not the House of Commons, rather the Grosvenor Hotel, and the furore is not political but – more unusually perhaps – philosophical.

William Kingdon Clifford – then professor of mathematics and mechanics at University College London – and the youngest ever person to be accepted into London’s elite Metaphysical Society, is presenting his inaugural paper. His audience includes the likes of Alfred Tennyson, William Gladstone, Thomas Huxley and the cream of London’s intelligentsia. The title of his paper is “The Ethics of Belief”.

Even before he finishes his reading, half the audience have stormed out of the room in protest. The remainder are on their feet, heartily engaged either in shouting him down or cheering him on.

What did the audience find so contentious about Clifford’s proposition? In his essay, he asserts that whatever someone chooses to believe cannot be exempt from the ethical judgement of others. A belief may leave someone open to a charge of unethical behaviour, depending on whether they have earned “the right to believe it”.

Ethics In the Development of Software-intensive Products and Services

London, December 2021. Waves of covid infections crash upon the bulwarks of the World’s healthcare systems. Ordinary people in all walks of life look upon the excesses of governments and businesses in a new, and distinctly unflattering light. What has happened to the traditional values of probity, social responsibility, ethics? Good questions indeed. In many quarters, scientists and specialists are regarded as pariahs.

Of course, recent events have only served to propel these issues into the public eye. In many avenues – and over many years – complacency, self-interest and greed seem to have overturned diligence, responsibility and probity. I believe we could all benefit from taking a long hard look at what we have become.

My own focus of concern is the arena of software and product development. I have seen literally hundreds of organisations in the business of developing software-intensive products and services in the course of my career. Most of these businesses have been wasting enormous amounts of time, money, effort, and human potential, through their unwittingly inefficient approaches to the practice of software development.

“…whatever someone chooses to believe cannot be exempt from the ethical judgement of others.”

And in most cases, little or nothing of any effective, practical value is done to address the situation, or if done, then not sustained.

In my experience this almost always comes about because those advising people nominally responsible for the situation – the senior executives of a company – honestly believe that Agile development approaches are effective (even though that rarely seems good enough).

So here’s the rub:

Do Agilists have the right to believe – and proselytise – that their approach(es) are as productive as possible, even if they have not gathered and considered the evidence?

Is such a belief, even when sincerely held, justifiable when these Agilists have acquired his or her belief…

“…not by honestly earning it in patient investigation but rather by stifling his doubts? And although in the end he may have felt so sure about it that he could not think otherwise, yet inasmuch as he had knowingly and willing worked himself into that frame of mind, he must be held responsible for it.”

But what if disaster (or merely loss of profit) does not befall the an Agile transformation or project? Would the Agilist be any less guilty?

“Not one jot. When any action is once done. it is right or wrong, forever; no accidental failure of its good or evil fruits can possibly alter that. The man would not have been innocent, he would only have been not found out. The question of right or wrong has to do with the origin of his belief, not the matter of it; not what it was, but how he got it; not whether it turned out to be true or false, but whether he had a right to believe on such evidence as was before him.”

Prior to Clifford, the established intelligentsia presumed that beliefs could never be examined in an ethical light. A gentleman could believe any damn thing he pleased.

Until recently, it seemed as if that presumption still held sway in many organisations. But today, William Clifford’s question comes back to haunt us. Yes, Agilists may truly believe that people working in an Agile way are being as productive as possible – but do they have any right to believe it?

About the Author

My name is Bob Marshall and I’ve been a specialist in the transformation of organisational performance – particularly in the software development and business technology arenas – for the past forty years and more.

I became interested in the field in the first place because of the egregious waste of time, money, effort and – above all – human potential that I saw time and again in organisations trying to develop software-intensive systems and products. So many people have such a poor time at work, frustrated and unfulfilled every day, in the majority of “Agile” (and other) organisations out there.

And the main reason for all this misery and waste? A simple belief that the Agile approach is beneficial. Or at least, not amenable to further improvement. Such a belief seems widespread, particularly amongst long-standing Agilists.

This distribution suggests that most software personnel have never seen software development at its best (or even, good). Their unfamiliarity with effective practice gives rise to a natural scepticism about whether things are really any better anywhere. Even people who have worked in the software industry for twenty or thirty years might never have seen software development practices anywhere near their best.

Most people will have spent their entire careers working in under-performing organisations. But some lucky few have seen for themselves that Quintessential organisations are indeed much more effective than the rest.

The Ethical and Moral Imperative

How do you feel about people wasting their time? I’m talking here specifically about the waste of effort, time and resources during the working day. There’s the obvious economic cost, of course. If employees are wasting time, by definition that’s costing their employer money. In software development, both the waste – and the cost – are often significant, but rarely visible.

However, I’m not going to dwell on this aspect in this article. Instead I want to talk about the morality of waste. Or rather, the immorality of it all.

We’ve already seen how Clifford caused uproar amongst his peers by suggesting that belief is subject to ethical scrutiny. And I’ve suggested that most Agilists’ belief that things are OK within their clients’ or employers’ software development shops fails that ethical test.

But I feel it goes further than that. Not only is Agilists’ naïve belief in the productivity of their clients’ or employers’ workforce unethical in itself, but the consequences – for individuals, the client organisations and wider society – are immoral too: waste, misery, stress, friction, conflict, disrespect, under-achievement, despondency, profligacy, demoralisation and frustration, to name but a few.

The Ethical Way Forward

So what to do? First, even before looking at the reality of the situation, on the ground, in their own organisations, I would invite responsible Agilists take a look at themselves – and their own motivations and culpability. Have they “honestly earned the right to their belief through patient investigation” – or are they merely “stifling their doubts”?

Have Agilists “honestly earned the right to their belief through patient investigation” – or are they merely “stifling their doubts”?

If the latter, then I suggest Agilists are ethically bound to go look for themselves at the reality of the situation in their clients’ or employers’ organisations. Some may feel uncomfortable doing this, lacking the necessary skills, access, or even simply the time. This need be no bar, however. Various specialist organisations exist to offer the necessary intervention, audit and review services. These organisations can conduct Clifford’s “patient investigations” and furnish the objective evidence.

Having the necessary evidence in mind, executives may then take pride that their beliefs pass the ethical test.

Of course, having real evidence to hand will likely show that the client has much scope for improvement, improvements which dwarf the proposed benefits of “going Agile”.

And finally, Agilists with a new-found or renewed ethical sentiment may begin to examine their peers’ beliefs in an ethical light, too. Thus, ethical business, and a more ethical society at large, grows stronger. Or is that too much to hope for?

In closing, I leave you with the words of Bertrand Russell:

“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite.“

– Bob

How Much Do You Care?

In recent times I have noted an upswing in the frequency of conversations about the ethical dimension of software development. Although still early days, many aspects of the social implications of software are beginning to receive more attention.

Effective Software Development

The dog’s breakfast that is Agile in the real world today exemplifies, for me, a key aspect of these ethical questions. Not that ethical questions are at all limited to the software industry.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about how people with a clear understanding of e.g. Agile software development (yes, there are some) tolerate, even support, a pallid, ineffective version in their workplace because their jobs and livelihoods depend on not rocking the boat. I’m talking about how folks go along with an ineffective and crippled approach for an easy life. Although how easy is it to stand by and watch project after project fail or limp along, with the consequent frustration and angst for all concerned?

With the oft-reported woefully low levels of employee engagement in most organisations, it’s hardly surprising that people just let such things slide by with little or no comment, complaint or action.

Satyagraha

We might take a leaf out of Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign playbook. He placed the idea of satyagraha at the heart of his toolkit of civil resistance. What is satyagraha? Online references describe it as “truth-force” or “the force that is generated through adherence to truth”.

Note: In this context, I choose to regard “truth” as referring to ethical imperatives such as justice, fairness and righteousness, and not simply factual truth. And yes, everyone has their own “truths” a.k.a. assumptions and beliefs. As do groups, such as organisations.

At the core of satyagraha is the willingness to suffer for the truth. Spiritual, emotional and physical suffering, borne in public, serves to emphasise the degree to which the satyagrahi care about the issue upon which they are campaigning.

Do You Care Enough to Suffer?

In the case of Agile, as with other aspects of how organisations run themselves today, it’s fair for folks to ask:

“Is it any of my concern? Don’t senior people with much higher pay grades than me hold the responsibility for these things?”

How is this any different from the old defence “I was only following orders?” 

Do you care? Do you care enough to start to say “No.”? In a civil and polite way, of course.

Are you prepared to suffer to see things become better for all concerned?

– Bob

Let’s be Honest

Let’s be honest, honesty seems in pretty short supply in life, and especially in business. 

Let’s be honest…

  • It’s dangerous to speak one’s mind honestly.
  • Most folks are more interested in holding down a job than in being honest about what’s going on.
  • Being honest feels good, but has far more negative consequences than positive ones.
  • The more senior the person, the more lip-service is paid to honesty.
  • How often do you feel it necessary to hide what you’re doing, rather than honestly declaiming your actions?
  • The smarter folks are, the more acute their capacity for self-deception.
  • Character (as in “good character”) is lauded in public and ridiculed in private.
  • You’re not going to risk commenting on this post, lest someone influential sees your honest opinon.

– Bob

Further Reading

Radical Candor ~ Kim Scott

Two Suits, No Hoots

Two suits stood in the aisle of the busy open-plan office.

“These people really are dumb,” John said, “even whisper ‘the bottom line’ and they all jump to it.”

“Yup. No one realises that us managers are in it for ourselves, not the bottom line,” Ralph said.

John smiled. “Sure thing. Wouldn’t do to have them find out, though.”

“No problem. They’ve been so brainwashed by life that even if we shouted our self-interest, they’d not believe it.”

John raised his thumb. “Safe, then.”

Ralph grinned.

Where’s the flaw in John and Ralph’s assumptions and beliefs?

– Bob

Further Reading

Your REAL Job ~ Think Different blog post

Plausible

I’ve been on the receiving end of a bunch of presentations recently. Presentations generally along the lines of “I assume you have this (business) problem, here’s my/our solution for fixing it”.

To most of them, my response has been “Hmmm, plausible”.

And then I channel Feynman:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

– Richard P. Feynman

Then my own natural skepticism kicks in and I end up thinking “Meh“. Followed closely by “Witch doctors”. And “Pseudoscience”.

Falsifiability

Feynman suggests we look for all the details that could cast doubt on an idea.

“In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.”

– Richard P. Feynman

I have to confess I’m crap at this myself.

The Laity

Feynman goes on to discuss the relationship between scientists and lay people. Maybe his assertion holds equally for the relationship between specialist or expert, and non-expert, too:

“If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing – and if they don’t support you under those circumstances, then that’s their decision.”

– Richard P. Feynman

I’d very much like to act congruently with Feynman’s admonitions. I’d really like to be able to test my ideas. I just don’t understand how to do that in my field (broadly speaking, social science). And so I often prefer to keep my ideas to myself. And take the stance of therapist, rather than pseudo-scientist.

I do wonder how many prospective clients would give a damn about “scientific” results in any case. It seems like most are just fine with Witch doctors and cargo cult science, thank you all the same.

– Bob

Further Reading

Cargo Cult Science ~ Richard Feynman

Some Homos

What is Man?

“There are depths in Man that go down to the lowest hell, and heights that reach the highest heaven.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve come across various takes on the question of “What is Man?” These include:

Homo Sapiens

More specifically, Homo Sapiens sapiens. Homo meaning man, and Sapiens meaning wise. I find a certain irony in this name.

Homo Economicus

Man as a species of rational and narrowly self-interested actors who have the ability to make judgments toward their subjectively defined ends. A.k.a. Homo Averiticus. I don’t buy this one at all.

Homo Biologicus

Man as a species shaped by biological processes such as natural and sexual selection.

Homo Narrans

Man as a species of story-tellers (and listeners). A collection of “individuals that develop a group consciousness around a problematic situation and act to solve the problematic situation”.

Yes, we tell and listen to stories. But as a defining characteristic? Hmmm.

Homo Evolutis

Man as a species that is taking control of its own evolution. See this article and related TED talk.

Homo Empathicus

Man as species predicated on empathy. Cf. Theory of Mind.

Homo Becoming

When Heraclitus looked at Nature he saw not stability or permanence, but incessant flux and transformation. This is a perspective in which I find much comfort. Man as a species forever part of Nature, of the Cosmos or wider universe, forever becoming something. Not a human being, but a human becoming.

I also like the implication that everyone is capable of becoming more than they are. A species of Infinite potential. A species with a growth mindset (cf. Dweck).

So What?

Would you be willing to consider how you see Man as a species? And how that colours your world, your relationships and your life?

– Bob

Further Reading

What Is Man? ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Empathic Civilisation ~ Jeremy Rifkin (RSAnimate video)
Mindset ~ Carol Dweck

 

I Don’t Want To Respect You

And I don’t want your respect, either. A lot of folks in the Lean community stress the importance of respect. And yes, respect sounds nice – and might indeed be an improvement on the less-than-respectful way many folks relate to each other in workplaces today.

But respect (root: specere – to look at; re – back, or again) implies judgement. Moralistic judgement. And there’s no way I want to judge you – or anyone for that matter. God knows I’m having enough trouble weening myself off that particular human foible.

So, if I’m not happy to respect people, what then? Disrespect? Indifference?

No. I’m happy when I can give – and receive – some empathy. Just being fully present for people, during their crises, during their joyful moments. Any time, really. Oh, and some compassion sweetens the deal. And from empathy, it’s but a short hop, skip and jump to attending to folks’ needs. And the joy that can bring to all concerned.

And if you tell me I have no choice. That I should respect people. That I have to respect people. Then that upsets me.

I guess that puts me beyond the pale, as far as the Lean folks go. Although, in their frame, perhaps they might be willing to find it in themselves to respect my point of view?

Or, perhaps, the choice of the word “respect” is a rather unfortunate error of translation. Perhaps the original Japanese term 人間性尊重 as used by Toyota, meaning

“Holding precious what it is to be human”

would have been more helpful? I feel that’s something I can get behind. Indeed, it’s very similar to Marshall Rosenberg’s stated purpose for Nonviolent Communication:

“Connecting with what’s alive in others and ourselves.”

How about you?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Equally Important “Respect For People” Principle ~ Bob Emiliani
Exploring the “Respect for People” Principle of the Toyota Way ~ Jon Miller
Spiritual Basis of Nonviolent Communication ~ Marshall Rosenberg
Aikido – The Way Of Harmonious Spirit ~ Elizabeth Reninger

I Pledge

Two pink butterflies on a patterned pink background

As an organisational psychotherapist, I feel blessed in meeting many different people and working with them to make their workplaces more joyful and healthy.

By turns distressed, frazzled and hopeful, those seeking my help will only benefit when we have a bond of mutual trust and common purpose.

My pledge to you as an Organisational Psychotherapist:

To be worthy of your trust,

  • I pledge to hold in the strictest confidence everything that I hear, see and learn.
  • I will share as much as possible, as widely and transparently as possible, with as many people as possible, bearing in mind the need for keeping confidences.
  • I will at all times attempt to restrain my inclination for moralistic judgements.
  • I acknowledge the power of empathy, towards individuals and groups both, and place this at the foundation of my relationships and practice.
  • I will apply the same degree of effort, and the same standards, to my relationships with everyone, regardless of position, seniority, race, gender, orientation, beliefs, actions, or affiliations.
  • I pledge to allow people and groups to come to their own answers, for themselves, and in their own time.
  • I will only ever offer advice or “answers” when sorely pressed to do so, but then freely and with good grace.
  • I must always be aware that I may participate in my clients’ journeys only as a listener, friend and invited guide, choosing to believe that ultimately each and all must make their own way.
  • I will act with integrity, compassion and understanding.
  • I make no promises about outcomes, only that I will do my best – and invite others to do the same.
  • I pledge never to flatter, encourage or attempt to motivate people.
  • I will always speak my own truth, and listen attentively to others’.
  • The only loyalty I acknowledge is to the welfare and wellbeing of the people and groups with whom I come into contact (myself included).
  • I will not shy away from asking difficult or disconcerting questions when I believe it’s in folks’ best interests to do so.
  • I will show understanding and respect to those who do not wish to participate.
  • I will never knowingly attempt to influence, coerce or motivate others or myself.
  • I will try to choose my words with compassion, and with understanding for the impact they may unwittingly have, and the emotions they may trigger.
  • I will always defer to appropriate, qualified people in matters of e.g. personal and emotional issues of individuals.
  • Though I may be paid for my services, my joy derives from attending to folks’ needs, not primarily remuneration, and I will never allow payment to become more important than my desire to see folks’ needs met.
  • I will always be aware of my clients’ investment of time, money, and effort, and endeavour to maximise the effectiveness of my efforts.
  • Knowing that I may become an exemplar to many, I will strive to be authentic, mindful, and to pursue my own personal growth.
  • With an appreciation for the uniqueness of every organisation, I will strive to help each and every client organisation to realise its full potential.

– Bob

Further Reading

A Psychotherapist’s Pledge ~ Ken Seigmann
The Nine Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy ~ FlowchainSensei
The Business Case for Organisational Psychotherapy ~ FlowchainSensei

 

Health Warning

WarningSign

Observations

I regularly read posts and articles informing managers and the like of this or that new technique for them to apply in their work. Here’s just one example amongst many.

Many of these techniques come from Agile folks, attempting – it seems – to encourage managers to move towards a more Agile stance in their methods, and in their relationships with the people they manage.

Feelings

I always feel a little anxious and peeved when seeing this kind of advice promoted without a health warning. I have in mind something like:

“Caution! Attempting to follow this advice without winning the active support of your higher-ups and your peers may cause alienation, organisational cognitive dissonance, damage to your credibility, and to your career.”

The question of safety is just beginning to gain a wider profile in the Agile community. Is safety of managers as much of an issue as safety of developers and testers when it comes to trying things out – such as adopting certain new, Agile-ish behaviours?

Needs

Such posts fail to meet my needs for “avoiding possible negative consequences (on behalf of readers)” and for “doing no harm”. I feel that encouraging managers (or other folks) to put themselves in harm’s way fails to meet principles 1. and 2. of my Nine Principles.

Requests

If you’re someone who publishes such advices to managers, would you be willing to include a health warning of some kind in your posts?

And if you’re someone who reads such posts or articles, would you be wiling to signal the absence of such warnings to their authors – and to other readers?

– Bob

Warning

WarningSign Caution! Including a health warning in a blog post or article may cause some folks to think twice about following your advice.

Further Reading

The Hippocratic Oath (Never do harm) ~ Wikipedia
Organisational Cognitive Dissonance ~ FlowChainSensei (blog post)

Optionality – The Double-Edged Sword

Having asked some difficult questions in my previous post, and not found many clear answers, I’d also like to bring up the question of optionality.

I’m pretty sure that many people, particularly those of an implicitly violent predisposition, might rail against the idea of folks being free to choose whether to participate in change, and what changes to embrace or decline. Is this not a recipe for anarchy and the undermining of all discipline and authority?

Well, as I see it, folks choose whether to participate in change, and what changes they will each embrace or decline, in any case—whether they are nominally “free” to choose, or not. It’s just that in many situations, they keep their choices secret, and when their opting-out of certain changes IS somehow noticed, other folks remark on their apparent “disengagement”.

We can of course choose to treat people like children, coercing or otherwise motivating them to (pretend) to accept the changes.

But in organisations more Theory-Y in outlook, where the idea of treating people like consenting adults has more traction, is it not more congruent to make the optionality of involvement in change something clear and unambiguous? Might this not reap benefits in term of the health of the social fabric of the organisation? And might it not allow us all to see more clearly which changes have wide support, and which are seen as unhelpful or irrelevant?

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”

― Gautama Buddha

I titled this post “…the Double-Edged Sword” because optionality cuts both ways. If folks are free to opt in or out of something, both options will likely have consequences.

I have found that folks often think deeply about the consequences of change (the opting-in to change choice) but little or not at all about the consequences of no-change (the opting-out of change choice). Ackoff refers to this phenomenon as “errors of commission vs errors of omission” and observes that people rarely get criticised for errors of omission (e.g. not taking a decision).

Whatever the reason, sticking with the status quo generally has at least as many consequences as opting for change.

Disclaimer: It would make my life a bit easier if folks could wake up to this.

– Bob

The Ethics of Change

Engaged as I am in what some might choose to call a “change programme”, I’ve had some occasions to ponder recently the ethics of change.

It is ethical to change people? Even given the truism that we can’t change others, we can only change ourselves, is it ethical to even contemplate changes to a system (the way the work works) with the idea of maybe seeing some behavioral changes in the folks working within that system?

As my ethical system these days is fairly bound up with nonviolence, for me the question resolves to “is asking questions with an intent to raise folks’ awareness actually a kind of violence?”

And given that’s what I’ve been doing recently —asking such questions—how far can one travel down that road before it becomes an act of violence? Put another way, where does “making meaningful connections with folks, through dialogue” end, and “coercion through asking leading questions” begin?

My working position on the question, presently, revolves around the twin notions of informed choice and need.

Informed Choice

To the extent that people realise what’s going on, and that they understand that they have a choice whether to participate or not, then I can live with the situation.

Needs

In the vernacular of Rosenberg, do folks need some change? If not, then forcing or coercing anyone into change seems to cross the ethical line. But how to broach the question of needs with each individual? Is even asking the question, starting the conversation, on dodgy ground. How about if we ask the question “Would you be willing to have a conversation about the prospect of change here, and what your needs might be therein?”?

What about folks that don’t realise what’s going on? Or have not (yet) understood the optionality of the situation? Does it behove us to do everything possible to help them understand, or is that effort—in the absence of their consent and need for realisation—in itself unethical?

– Bob

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