At a time when many observers are calling for evolution in human thinking so that executives make better decisions, it isn’t only individual executives who need to think more clearly, with more emphasis on facts and opposing views, but entire organizational decision-making teams.
A new web site has seen some remarkable growth recently focusing on just these sorts of questions and others having to do with innovation in management thinking. ‘The MIX’ or “Management Innovation eXchange” is worth a look if you’re following changes needed in managing organizations. They describe themselves as an innovation ‘project’ to which contributors are welcome. You’ll recognize some of the originators like Gary Hamel, for instance.
I liked one recent article in particular, pointing out that in the years since ‘shareholder value’ became the nearly exclusive measure of success in many businesses, success on that measure has actually declined on average almost 30%, arguing the worst performances in the latest financial crisis were turned in by those with the most “independent Boards” and worst of all were those Boards weighted with institutional shareholders – ie: shareholders big enough to drive their own direct shareholder interests. They argue there are other reasons to run organizations.
On one hand that clashes with some of my earlier posts in which I’ve argued against letting senior executives determine directions alone, since they have been shown to tend to favor decisions that benefit themselves. Yet clearly the idea of shareholder oversight is equally being called into question here.
What alternatives are there? The key would seem to be that strategies have to be looked at from multiple points of view – that neither individuals nor one or two large groups should be allowed to drive agendas exclusively or almost so. That suggests a need to review decisions more broadly.
What this argues for is that strategies need to serve composite, multiple needs. We live in the midst of complexity that is growing more complex all the time. The best solutions are rarely likely to be one-sided, no matter which side is favored. The challenge, of course, is that all of us as individuals have reasons that seem eminently reasonable to each of us for tilting decisions in our favor.
This, of course, is supposed to be the strength of democracy as a system. Everyone gets a vote. The problem is what political scientists took to calling the ‘tyranny of democracy’ many years ago – the tendency of the largest group in society to suppress interests of the minorities in favor of rewarding themselves. If you have the power, whether it is to out-vote or simply to outweigh the ‘opposition,’ it is tempting to see the other interests as ‘less important’ and decide to suit yourselves.
Going forward we have to find better ways of ensuring inclusiveness, not only in hiring or accepting people who are different, but in terms of including differing interests and agendas. Everyone with every agenda has to work together to ensure as many constituencies benefit as possible. Unfortunately we only have to look south to see the worst behavior in years to ignore this in public political debate, to use negative campaigning to try to win and eliminate opposing interests and points of view. And worse, we can see it spill over into their press, which has the freedom to say and campaign for what it likes exclusively apparently. So although we see more written by researchers and observers for more inclusiveness, we see less public debate paying any attention to clear facts that pure partisanship hurts results.