||Issue No. 163||29 November 2002|
Lessons from History
Interview: Trade Secrets
Industrial: It’s About Overtime, Stupid
Unions: Full Steam Ahead
Bad Boss: The BBQ Battle Axe
Economics: Different Dimensions of Debt
History: Raking the Coals
History Special: Wherever the Necessity Exists
History Special: Learning from the Past
History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Politics: Regime Change for Saddam
International: World War
Corporate: Industrious Thinking
Review: Jack High
Culture: Duffy’s Song
Satire: A Nation of Sooks
Poetry: Mr Flexibility
The Locker Room
Month In Review
State Based Organising
Gino on the Gong
Letters to the Editor
Oh Bugger Me!
I am responding to the impassioned, frustrated plea from Martin Griffin in your letters from a few weeks ago (http://workers.labor.net.au/160/letters3_three.html).
Yes Martin, there is a better way than Us V Them. The best-known story in Australia is a book called Maverick! by Ricardo Semler, first published in 1992. Reading it changed my life. Since then, I have found hundreds of other companies doing their own versions of what Semler did. Most of them are in the U.S.; a small handful in Australia, and they are all private companies.
It is known as Open Book Management, or just OBM. Oh b*gger me! Is the truth really out there?
My attempts over the last three years to interest various powerful stakeholders in OBM have been almost fruitless so far. What I'm talking about here has a dramatic impact on power. Power depends on the unquestioning acceptance of rules, and too few leaders are comfortable with debate about their actions, let alone being held accountable for them.
This is why forums like Workers Online, Bosswatch and crikey.com.au have immense value. It is easy to dismiss Stephen Mayne as a rabid anti-unionist. The truth is far more frightening to those in power: he puts the spotlight on the actions of the powerful - anyone who has a job involving stakeholder trust - whether they be politicians, journalists, company directors, shareholders, ... or union leaders. I doubt whether he appreciates fully the enormous social value of what he is doing.
But I digress.
The world is full of Us V Them-isms, with each party seeking to further its own agendas and self-interests (read 'power'). When does the battle become really desperate? When survival (or the means to it) is at stake.
It's a rare person who doesn't put self-interest at the top of the personal agenda, especially with respect to power. To redistribute power, you have to change the rules - or people's perceptions about the rules or how they should be applied. And there's a really sad irony that even successful (read 'powerful') rule-changers discover eventually: in organisations small and large, rules create habits that are very hard to change. These habits are, collectively, corporate culture. I know quite a few CEOs, and most have told me they sometimes feel trapped by their own corporate cultures.
But back to Us V Them and OBM. Even my sallies aimed at interesting the union movement locally have been ignored. I vented my frustration to an astute observer/participant of the labour movement and she replied ... "well I'm not surprised, it's UnionsWa after all!! They have no grey matter whatsoever let alone managerial nouse. They are not really interested in making things better for workers, just themselves. Heaven forbid that you may have a way to empower the workers, then they wouldn't need unions would they ... think about it???"
Is she exaggerating a trifle? My experience has been that very very few bosses are willing to share power in a substantial way - and that goes for union bosses too. Us V Them. Both sides locked in mortal combat. But don't acquire a taste for anti-depressants: we're not on this planet to do that.
Martin, if you're really interested in having a major impact on the world of work, get mad, get really really really mad about Us V Them - and find out more about OBM. Read Maverick! Do a web search on "open book management". You'll be amazed, inspired, exhilarated, breathless.
Then channel your emotion into spreading the word. I've been working in the area of organisational change for over 20 years now and I've concluded that our future depends on the values and systems embodied in OBM. We have to eliminate Us V Them. But don't take my word for it about OBM. Find out for yourself. Come to your own conclusions.
Go for it! Then think about the implications for Us V Them of sharing 'in the responsibility and rewards of the bosses'. Contact me, by all means - [email protected] - but only after you've done some of the homework I've suggested above.
What Einstein did to physics, OBM is doing to management.
(The author is a psychologist and independent consultant now specialising in OBM. He is a very wealthy man, as readers can see from his company's expensive and elaborate web site - http://www.obmbo.com.au).
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