Book-projects – Power and response-ability: Introduction


People are powerful. People make things happen; people make things work.

When people are powerful, work really does happen. The productivity soars, the inspiration flows, the care and the commitment are omnipresent. Whenever that kind of enthusiasm occurs within a company, everyone wants to work, and work as hard as they can, because work at last feels worthwhile.

All too often, though, things don’t happen that way – or at least, don’t happen in the way that we want. Apparently without any warning, that excitement and enthusiasm can fade away to nothing; the ‘Monday morning blues’ become prevalent again; and it’s back to the usual bitching and backbiting, the joys of office politics…

All this chaos arises because of confusions about power: a failure to understand what power is, how to gain it, how to use it, how to share it, how not to lose it. In fact, many of the common concepts of power – especially within business – are so close to perfectly wrong, in a functional sense, that it’s amazing sometimes that any work happens at all. The results can be seen in almost every company: frustration, inefficiency, loss of motivation, lost opportunities and, of course, lost profits. It hurts. It hurts everyone.

Yet it needn’t be that way. Those seemingly ‘random’ bursts of creativity and productivity at work aren’t random at all: and the circumstances under which they occur can be easily understood. So it is possible to create, and maintain, the kind of enthusiasm and commitment to work that makes everyone’s eyes open wide. It is possible to create, and maintain, a commitment to quality that has little to do with paper and procedures, but arises directly from people themselves. It really is possible to create, and maintain, conditions in which everyone involved can find a true sense of satisfaction, even joy, in work and elsewhere – with impressive effects on every aspect of the corporation’s ‘bottom line’. Not just ‘business as usual’: a lot more than ‘business as usual’!

And yes, there is a catch, of course. The catch is that you won’t get these results from some quick-fix fad, some kind of ‘fit and forget’ new system. You’ll only get them from paying attention, systematically and consistently, to what I call ‘the human side of systems’: human power, and its expression as ‘response-ability’. In many ways, it depends not only on a different understanding of power, and relationships between people and organisations, but also on a different understanding of the nature of business itself, as a dynamic, ever-changing balance between three areas of focus that I describe as knowledge-technology, relationship-management and purpose-fulfilment. And it requires continuous attention to quality: not just to quality of products or services, but to every aspect of the human quality of business, upon which the quality of products and services ultimately depend.

Although the human side of systems deals with so-called ‘soft’ issues, its effects, and the results of measures taken, can be assessed, audited, addressed in the kind of ‘hard’ numbers that managers and other analysts need. And although its processes can at times be challenging, for everyone, the end-results are worthwhile, for everyone: I can promise you that. Shall we proceed?

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