Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

The First Second

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What makes an organization viable for human life? Does there exist a small number of organizational variables that have to be within acceptable range for an organization to support life? If they exist when do the values of those variables get set? And once set can they be changed?

“Everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler.”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

The universe does not have to be the way it is. There are a small number of variables that should their values have come out differently, we would not be here and life as we know it would not be possible. Life exists in the universe because there are values in place for certain fundamental constants that allow for matter to achieve high levels of organization. This led to the creation of stars and galaxies and other structures that permeate the universe. Other variables allow for stars to burn at a rate that allows them to be around long enough for life to develop and for carbon, what life as we know it is based upon, to be found in abundance. Life and our universe are interconnected but it did not need to be that way, the values of the constants did not need to be exactly as they are. Why are they so? The simple answer is that it is the way it is because we are here to measure it. There could have been an infinite number of universes before ours and there could be an infinite number of universes after ours is done or according to M-theory, there could be an infinite number of parallel universes to ours currently in existence. The reason why we are in possibly the one universe that supports life is because we are here in the first place to ask the question, and we would not be able to ask the question in any other universe that did not support life – this notion is called Anthropic principles. 

Nature does nothing in vain, and more is in vain when less will serve.”

Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

The constants, the values that those critical variables adopted were determined within the first fraction of a fraction of a second that this universe existed. At the very beginning of our time, our universe, a course was set. This course determined whether the possibility existed that we would be here now. If the numbers had not come out the way they did, I would not be sitting here writing this and you would not be reading it. In fact, there would in all likelihood be no life anywhere in this universe. The moment of origination was critical.

“Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it – in a decade, a century, or a millennium – we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise? How could we have been so stupid for so long?”

John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008)

What about organizational life? Can we draw a parallel to life in the universe or are humans and our societies more complex than the universe? Does there exist a relatively small number of variables or factors that creates conditions within an organization, allowing employees to flourish, possibly according to Maslow to self-actualize?  And when do these variables become part of the fabric of the organizational universe?

Each organization has a unique history, a unique story about its origins. Within a fairly short time span of its origins the initial culture of the organization may be set, not necessarily in stone, but in fairly strong stuff never-the-less. I am constantly amazed at how in high turnover organizations the cultures can be as robust as they are, resistant to movement in one direction or the other, even though they constantly fill with new people.

If you asked me to define the initial variables that determine whether an organization can support life I would choose the following:

  • A clear and compelling Message regarding what the organization is about, what it stands for, what it hopes to accomplish and knowledge of how each individual can support that Message in a meaningful fashion
  • Performance enablement – the organization providing what you need to accomplish your tasks in a way of which you can be proud and alignment of the Performance expectations to the Message, as well as:
    • Working for a management team that is effective and puts sensible business processes in place and positions itself well within its markets  
  • A sense of Future – compelling reasons to stick around including:
    • Fair and respectful treatment – you get out what you consider to be fair for what you put in, covering pay, benefits, recognition, rewards and advancement as well as being treated in a respectful and dignified fashion
    • The ability to stay current in your skills or to develop new skills

I think the leadership of an organization needs to make up its mind regarding how they will operate against these variables during the initial formulation of the organization. While I do believe these variables can change, they are much more difficult to change later on in the organizational life-cycle than if they are set up appropriately at the beginning.  The moment of origination is critical.

 “What can be done with fewer assumptions is done in vain with more.”

William of Ockham (1285-1349)


Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 13, 2009 at 8:01 am

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