Setting the scene for the Future Organization

by Dr. Reg Butterfield

Welcome to our first newsletter, which takes my colleague Ross and me into a new chapter of our journey together to understand what makes organisations tick. We will be writing about and challenging the way we think about organisations and how they perform in the challenging world of today — truly a minefield for managers.

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It may seem ironic to some of you that we chose the 1st of May to publish our first newsletter under the banner of “Management Minefields” given that today is a long-established day of celebration and demonstration for workers and their rights in more than 160 countries. It is known variously as May Day, Workers’ Day, or International Workers’ Day. In the United States and Canada there is a similar celebration on the first Monday of September, which is known as Labor Day.

The 1st of May represents a rallying cry for workers to stand true to their original causes, which are as relevant today as they were 140 years ago when the USA first introduced the Labor Day holiday. At the same time, it is to remind others of the blood lost by previous generations in their fight for fairness and an 8-hour day, which is still the standard for many workers in 2022.

Labor Day was borne in 1891 out of the 1886 tragedy at Haymarket Square, Chicago, Illinois, where more than a dozen people lay dead or dying, and close to 100 were injured. The events that followed led to the execution of four foreign-born radicals, with others having their death sentences commuted after widespread public concerns about the validity of the due process.

In the fight for work conditions that many people take for granted today, workers have lost their lives or been seriously maimed not just by officials as in 1886, but also through lack of safety and other daily workplace situations. Where changes for the better have been taken, unfortunately most were not introduced because of benevolent management. It has taken a raft of legislation and tribunal or court cases to bring about much of the change. The struggles in many industries and countries continue to this day.

In 1886 not all owners and managers were bad people, which is also the case today. So, what is going on and what stops good management removing dysfunctional management behaviour?

As the owner or CEO of an organisation that is perceived as successful, am I really concerned about how we achieve that success? In many cases anonymous shareholders looking for short-term high yields reinforce this pressure for success at minimal financial cost, translated as ‘achieve more with less’. Managers are caught in this pressure cooker of a combination of overt power directly attributed to their hierarchy and a subtle form of passive-aggressive power from shareholders or, in non-profit organisations, donors or supporters.

None of this is new. Throughout history organisations have been built on the ethos of power and control. The Industrial Revolutions began the move from regional cross-border trade to the Global trade of today. During that transition the all-powerful business models of early industrialists were creating monopolies and Trusts to retain control of trade. Subsequently, these were challenged by statutes in the USA and Europe, which led the powerful industrial barons to seek alternative ways of controlling what they saw as their right to accrue vast wealth.

The period between the 1920s and 1970s was when new ‘modern’ management and control systems for organisations were born. With trusts outlawed by the 1920s, the founder-led firms were subsequently replaced by professionally managed corporations, owned by retail investors, and run by powerful executives. This is an important period for the management and control of businesses today, as many are built upon the legacies of this period.

This structured managerial approach to organisations has defined much of what happened in the developed economies during the 20th century.

We argue that most forms of management in the western world follow similar doctrines and behaviours based on this historical success. In other parts of the world the behaviours may vary and yet they also fall within doctrines and behaviours that arise from common foundations within their national settings. In most cases evidence is accruing to demonstrate that these practices are out of date today, even if they may have seemed OK previously.

During the industrial age cheap labour was plentiful, and worker compliance was an accepted approach to earn money and provide for the family. This compliance by the workforce reinforced the cycle of aggressive ‘typically’ alpha male management dominance and associated performance management systems.

Workers wanted to be treated with respect, and yet management continued their ‘successful’ patterns of arguably dysfunctional behaviour. In more recent times, payments to ‘wronged or injured workers’ accompanied with strict non-disclosure agreements have helped protect management from the legal issues of responsibility and accountability and thus little to nothing changed.

Today, the 1st of May 2022 celebrations and remembrance are accompanied by what the USA calls the ‘Big Quit’ whilst others call it the ‘Big Reshuffle’ or the ‘Great Resignation’. Most studies indicate that less than 30% of workforces are engaged or committed to their job. So, something must be going wrong with management and how organisations work.

Over the coming weeks Ross and I, together with some guest authors, will challenge and explore post-industrial age management and work in our newsletter discussions. We will not be sermonising or providing all the answers. We will be raising questions and challenging some sacred cows to encourage discussion and joint resolutions on both our Management Minefields newsletter platform and our new companion blog, “Painless Management”.

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Once again, thanks for reading our first newsletter, which will always remain free to you as a subscriber. It is the news part of our Futocracy Group, which aims to develop and support sustainable organisations.

If you have any questions or want specific management or organisational subjects discussed in future editions of this newsletter or our blog ‘Painless Management’, just let us know through the links below.

We will also continue to research and develop new ways of thinking about ‘future-proof organisations designed for change’ on our parent platform — the Futocracy Network.

Originally published on Substack May 5, 2022.

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Dr. Ross Wirth

Dr. Ross Wirth

Designing organizations that free people from bureaucratic controls — a purpose-driven organization that is built for operating with continuous change.