Posts Tagged ‘Chris Argyris’

Who’s Left Standing?

November 22, 2013 1 comment

First W. E. Deming, then Russell Ackoff, and now Chris Argyris. They’re all gone. Bummer.

ArgyrisWhen I first encountered the work of each of these three original thinkers, it blew me away. Their insights on organizational and management behaviors were like a breath of fresh air compared to the C-suite pandering, jargonized junk that business schools spew and pop business icons like Tom Peters promulgate (no offense Tom, I like some of your ideas).

Managers who are skilled communicators may also be good at covering up real problems – Chris Argyris

AFAIK, there’s nobody like this trio of intellectual giants left standing (maybe they’ve won?). There are, however, a handful of second string, accessible, truth-tellers out there. Henry Mintzberg, Sam Culbert, and Steve Denning come to mind. Who can you add to this list?

He Said, He Thought, He Said, He Thought

September 30, 2012 3 comments

In “Get Rid of the Performance Review!: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing–and Focus on What Really Matters“, Sam Culbert provides several, made-up, boss-subordinate exchanges to make his case for jettisoning the archaic, 1900’s “annual performance review“. For your reading pleasure, I lifted one of these depressingly funny exchanges out of the book and transformed it into a derivation of Chris Argyris’s terrific LHS-RHS format. It’s long, and it took me a bazillion years to recreate it on this stupid-arse blawg; so please read the freakin’ thing.

Did you notice how both the boss and the subordinate suffered from the ordeal? But of course, you don’t have to worry about experiencing similar torture because the “annual performance review” at your institution is different. Even better, your org has moved into the 21st century by implementing an alternative, more equitable and civilized way of gauging performance and giving raises.

In his hard-hitting and straight-talking book, Mr. Culbert, a UCLA management school professor and industry consultant firebrand (he’s got street cred!), really skewers C-level management. He fires his most devastating salvos at evil HR departments for sustaining the “annual performance review” disaster that sucks the motivation out of everybody within reach. And yes, he does provide viable alternatives (that won’t ever be implemented in established, status-quo-loving borgs) to HR’s beloved “annual performance review“. Buy and read the book to find out what they are.

Note: Thanks Elisabeth, for steering me toward Mr. Culbert’s blasphemous work. It has helped to reinforce my entrenched UCB and the self-righteous illusion that “I’m 100% right“. But wait! I’m not allowed to be right.

The Scrum Sprint Planning Meeting

September 12, 2012 2 comments

Since the UML Scrum Cheat Sheet post is getting quite a few page views, I decided to conjure up a class diagram that shows the static structure of the Scrum Sprint Planning Meeting (SPM).

The figure below shows some text from the official Scrum Guide. It’s followed by a “bent” UML class diagram that transforms the text into a glorious visual model of the SPM players and their responsibilities.

In unsuccessful Scrum adoptions where a hierarchical command & control mindset is firmly entrenched, I’ll bet that the meeting is a CF (Cluster-f*ck) where nobody fulfills their responsibilities and the alpha dudes dominate the “collaborative” decision making process. Maybe that’s why Ramblin’ Scott Ambler recently tweeted:

Everybody is doing agile these days. Even those that aren’t. – Scott Ambler

D’oh! and WTF! – BD00

Of course, BD00 has no clue what shenanigans take place during unsuccessful agile adoptions.  In the interest of keeping those consulting and certification fees rolling in, nobody talks much about those. As Chris Argyris likes to say, they’re “undiscussable“. So, Shhhhhhh!

Cross-Disciplinary Pariahs

August 9, 2012 6 comments

The figure below shows a simplified version of the classic engineering Feedback Control System (FCS). There are two significant features that distinguish an FCS from a typical engineering system. First, the input is not a raw signal to be manipulated in order to produce a derived output of added informational value. It is a “desiredsetpoint (or goal, or reference) to be “achieved” by the system’s design.

The second feature is the feedback loop which taps off the output signal and provides real-time evidence to the comparator of how well the output is converging to (or diverging from) the desired setpoint. For a given application, the system’s innards are designed such that the output tracks its input with hi fidelity – even in the presence of “disturbances” (e.g. noise) that infiltrate the system.

In purely technical systems (as opposed to socio-technical systems), the FCS system output would typically be connected to an “actuator” device like a motor,  a switch, a valve,  a furnace, etc that affects an important measurable quantity in the external environment. The desired setpoints for these type of systems would be motor speed, switch position, valve position, and temperature, respectively. The mathematics of how engineering FCSs behave been known since the 1930s.

In defiance of mainstream psychology and sociology pedagogy, Bill Powers and Rudy Starkermann spent much of their careers applying control theory concepts to their own innovative theories of human behavior. Their heretical, cross-disciplinary approaches to psychology and sociology have kept them oppressed and out of the mainstream much like Deming, Ackoff, Argyris in management “science”.

The figure below shows (big simplifications of) the Powers and Starkermann models side by side. Note the similarities between them and also between them and the classic engineering FCS.

  • Engineering FCS: Setpoint/Comparator/Feedback Loop
  • Powers: Reference/Comparator/Feedback Loop
  • Starkermann: Goal/Summing Node/Feedback Loop

The big (and it’s huge) difference between the Starkermann/Powers models and the engineering FCS model  is that Starkermann’s goal and Powers’ reference signal originate from within the system whereas the dumb-ass engineering FCS must “be told” what the desired setpoint is by something outside of itself (a human or another mechanistic system designed by a human). In the Starkermann/Powers FCS models of human behavior, “being told” is processed as a disturbance.

If you delve deeper into the “obscure” work of Starkermann and Powers, your world view of the behavior of individuals and groups of individuals just may change – for the better or the worse.

1, 2, X, Y

August 6, 2012 3 comments

Chris Argyris has his Model 1 and Model 2 theories of action:

  • Model I: The objectives of this theory of action are to: (1) be in unilateral control; (2) win and do not lose; (3) suppress negative feelings; and (4) behave rationally.
  • Model II:  The objectives of this theory of action are to: (1) seek valid (testable) information; (2) create informed choice; and (3) monitor vigilantly to detect and correct error.

Douglas McGregor has his X and Y theories of motivation:

  • Theory X: Employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can and that they inherently dislike work.
  • Theory Y: Employees may be ambitious and self-motivated and exercise self-control; they enjoy their mental and physical work duties.

Let’s do an Argyris-McGregor mashup and see what types of enterprises emerge:

Snapback To “Business As Usual”

August 4, 2012 4 comments

Over the years, I’ve read quite a few terrific and insightful reports from the General Accountability Office (GAO) on the state of several big, software-intensive, government programs. The GAO is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the US Congress. Its mission is to:

help improve the performance and accountability of the federal government for the American people. The GAO examines the use of public funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides analyses, recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make informed oversight, policy, and funding decisions.

In a newly released report titled Software Development: Effective Practices And Federal Challenges In Applying Agile Methods“, the GAO communicated the results of a study it performed on the success of using “agile” software methods in five agencies (a.k.a. bureaucracies): the Department of Commerce, Defense, Veterans Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The GAO report deems these 10 best practices as effective for taking an agile approach:

Yawn. Every time I read a high-falutin’ list like this, I’m hauntingly reminded of what Chris Argyris essentially says:

Most advice given by “gurus” today is so abstract as to be un-actionable.

The GAO report also found more than a dozen challenges with the agile approach for federal agencies:

Again, yawn. These are not only federal challenges…. they’re HUGE commercial challenges as well. When the whole borg infrastructure, its policies, its protocols, its (planning, execution, reporting) procedures, and most importantly, its sub-group mindsets are steadfastly waterfall-dominated, here’s what usually happens when “agile” is attempted by a courageous borg sub-group:

D’oh! I hate when that happens.

Espoused Vs. In-Use

July 15, 2012 6 comments

Although we say we value openness, honesty, integrity, respect, and caring, we act in ways that undercut these values. For example, rather than being open and honest, we say one thing in public and another in private—and pretend that this is the rational thing to do. We then deny we are doing this and cover up our denial. – Chris Argyris

Guys like Chris Argyris, Russell Ackoff, and W. E. Deming have been virtually ignored over the years by the guild of professional management because of their in your face style. The potentates in the head shed don’t want to hear that they and their hand picked superstars are the main forces holding their borgs in the dark ages while the 2nd law of thermodynamics relentlessly chips away at the cozy environment that envelopes their (not-so) firm.

Chris Argyris’s theory of behavior in an organizational setting is based on two conflicting mental models of action:

  • Model I: The objectives of this theory of action are to: (1) be in unilateral control; (2) win and do not lose; (3) suppress negative feelings; and (4) behave rationally.
  • Model II:  The objectives of this theory of action are to: (1) seek valid (testable) information; (2) create informed choice; and (3) monitor vigilantly to detect and correct error.

The purpose of Model I is to protect and defend the fabricated “self” against fundamental, disruptive change. The patterns of behavior invoked by model I are used by people to protect themselves against threats to their self-esteem and confidence and to protect groups, intergroups, and organizations to which they belong against fundamental, disruptive change. D’oh!

From over 10,000 empirical cases collected over decades of study, Mr. Argyris has discovered that most people (at all levels in an org) espouse Model II guidance while their daily theory in-use is driven by Model I. The tool he uses to expose this espoused vs. in-use model discrepancy is the left-hand-column/right-hand-column method, which goes something like this:

  1. In a sentence or two identify a problem that you believe is crucial and that you would like to solve in more productive ways than you have hitherto been able to produce.
  2. Assume that you are free to interact with the individuals involved in the problem in ways that you believe are necessary if progress is to be made. What would you say or do with the individuals involved in ways that you believe would begin to lead to progress. In the right hand column write what you said (or would say if the session is in the future). Write the conversation in the form of a play.
  3. In the left-hand column write whatever feelings and thoughts you had while you were speaking that you did not express. You do not have to explain why you did not make the feelings and thoughts public.

What follows is an example case titled “Submerging The Primary Issue” from Chris’s book, “Organizational Traps:Leadership, Culture, Organizational Design“. A superior (S) wrote it in regard to his relationship with a subordinate (O) regarding O’s performance.

The primary issue in the superior’s mind, never directly spoken in the dialog, is his perception that the subordinate lacks a sense of responsibility. The issue that *did* end up being discussed was a technical one. (I’d love to see the same case as written by the subordinate. I’d also like to see the case re-written by the superior in a non-supervised environment.)

When Mr. Argyris pointed out the discrepancy between the left and right side themes to the case writer and 1000s of other study participants, they said they didn’t speak their true thoughts out of a concern for others. They did not want to embarrass or make others defensive. Their intention was to show respect and caring.

So, are the reasons given for speaking one way while thinking a different way legitimately altruistic, or are they simply camouflage for the desire to maintain unilateral control and “win“? The evidence Chris Argyris has amassed over the years indicates the latter. But hey, those are traits that lead to the upper echelons in corpoland, no?

Double Loop Learning

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Chris Aryris is a giant in the field of organizational development. LinkedIn e-colleague Gene Bellinger recently posted this classic Argyris article, “Teaching Smart People How To Learn“, to his “Systems Thinking” group. In the missive, Mr. Argyris gives a great example of double loop learning:

I have coined the terms ‘‘single loop’’ and ‘‘double loop’’ learning…. To give a simple analogy: a thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops below 68 degrees is a good example of single-loop learning. A thermostat that could ask, ‘‘Why am I set at 68 degrees?’’ and then explore whether or not some other temperature might more economically achieve the goal of heating the room would be engaging in double-loop learning.

Because of the Law Of Impermanence (LOI), it’s inevitable that what worked in the past won’t work at some unknowable time in the future. The top half of the figger below illustrates the LOI in action. On the left, we have a successful org or individual happily humming along. The successful “entity” repeatedly performs actions that lead to success. As long as the external environment doesn’t change, this self-reinforcing loop of success can be sustained for quite a long time. However, since the LOI is constantly and relentlessly operating in the background, insanely doing the same thing over and over again will eventually guarantee failure. The failure may occur instantaneously like a broken axle while driving on the freeway, or it may manifest gradually like an excruciating death by a thousand cuts. Bummer.

Possibly the only way of keeping the LOI at bay is to institute double loop learning. The figger below shows the painful, transformational process of adding a second action-result-reflection loop to the system. By adding the skill of reflection, deteriorating results can be detected and action can be periodically tuned to accommodate a changing world.

Just because “deteriorating results can be detected and action can be tuned” doesn’t mean they will be. The forces against truthful org and individual reflection on poor results are formidable. Denial, angst, and fear, which are all dysfunctions of the individual and collective human ego, conspire against improving system robustness and viability via change. Reorgs, appointing the same people to funky new titles, bumping up compensation/perks, cutting costs, and attempting to apply all other textbook management tools amount to wrapping bandaids around a massive hemorrhage. Double bummer.

The hardest aspect of getting a double learning loop into operation is connecting the “Reflection” node back to the “Action” node so that actions can be changed. As I know too well, it’s relatively easy to reflect on one’s actions while exhibiting the same insane behavior over and over and over and over………..

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” – Frank Zappa

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