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Bruce Holland

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Management's sweet spot

Unnecessary change is probably the most disruptive and expensive practice in the last 20 years of New Zealand business.

Many managers I come in contact with, fiddle with change as they'd fiddle with their car. They fiddle at centralising (or decentralising), cutting back or reengineering. They downsize, control and impose as though it was a mechanical system (rather than a living system). This takes so much organisational energy, there's none left to satisfy customers and staff are too battered to care.

The sad thing is, that science is now showing that most of this activity is counter productive and can only lead to failure. Indeed at present science is several years ahead of business in understanding how living systems work. Managers need to take note!

In the last 10 years scientists have found that life has a sweet spot ... a spot where living systems thrive, where all growth and creativity occurs. Since organisations are living systems, understanding this sweet spot is vital to understanding organisations and business.

The Sweet spot

The sweet spot occurs at the transition between two steady states called order and disorder. All living systems will move quite naturally and unaided to this point because this is the only point where they are able to grow and thrive. Most managers feel a strong need to manage this and to position their organisation within the steady state of order. They hate to feel out of control or left to chance. However, it's important to realise that the laws of life will automatically move the organisation to the sweet spot without managerial help. Any attempt to over manage this natural process or to control it or manipulate it will push the system away from the sweet spot, either into the steady state called order which by definition is unchanging and unresponsive, or push it into disorder and anarchy.

Suppose (for example) managers are trying to over engineer a move towards empowerment. They are likely to push the system into order (nothing actually changes); then they over-react and try abdication which pushes the system into disorder (anarchy and disruption occur), when all hell breaks loose they tighten up the controls which pushes the system back into order (seizes up and becomes bureaucratic). This cycle has been repeated many times in many organisations over the last 20 years. Sometimes the cycle is decentralisation to recentralisation to decentralisation. Sometimes it's long term focus to short term focus and back to long term focus as each position becomes either too ordered or too disordered. And it's all so predictable because over control, in all the experiments conducted by the scientists, have led to significantly worse results than self organisation.

Is it any wonder why organisations are flip-flopping (and most are) from unnecessary change to unnecessary change? It's because managers are treating the organisation like a mechanical system which can be controlled, restructured, downsized, reengineered, limited, and put in boxes.

The scientists have found out that all that's required is a common vision, a few simple rules that everyone adheres to, strong leadership (but a different type), and trust that the world is basically self organising.

The scientists say, in living systems, more control leads to less order and less control leads to more order. Living systems cannot be herded along a predetermined path. They seldom go in a straight line. The trick is to encourage winners and amplify positives. This can be done, partly by managing conversations, partly by looking for and boosting "positive deviations" (things that are already working unexpectedly well), feeding them, giving them resources and visibility. And partly by providing highly respected role models, so that people start to notice the success and want to be part of it.

Whats required is leadership which helps build a sense of identity, relationships, information, meaning and self worth. Instead of controlling the organisation in the traditional way (which science says is impossible to achieve anyway), a different kind of control is needed ... Ease off the Rule Book, unblock your structures and processes, free up grass-roots workers, increase empowerment, reduce levels, allow people to take ownership, focus on values and principles, spend time building relationships, develop PALs (partnerships, alliances and linkages) ... rather than reorganising.

If it all seems too hard and you want professional advice from someone who knows how to manage in accordance with the laws of life, give me a call on Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland or email

Best wishes


Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.

One of NZ's most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work

Key words: Leadership, leadership development, leadership management, leadership training, leadership program, leadership skills, strategy, strategies, business strategy, business strategies, strategy management, strategic management, strategy development, implementation.

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