Doug, I think you have some very good points. Too many OD people fail to
see it, and either handicap themselves or create problems for others as a
result. Paternalism is certainly one aspect of their shadow.
Empire-building and bureaucratization is another.
Together, that mix can be toxic. Here, for instance, the whole
"affirmative action/reverse racism" concept has almost entirely co-opted
many corporate HR departments, who work to maintain such programs even
after governments repeal them. It certainly enhances their power at the
expense of line managers, requires their 'expert' help to administer, and
is infused by a strong 'we know best' mentality. The fact that it may mean
discrimination in practice - with all of the consequences that entails -
is generally ignored or rationalized away if it is addressed at all.
Without HR's support, the vast majority of these programs would NOT
So there's one "hot button" example which grows from some of HR's natural
shadows. You may agree or disagree with my views on the subject, but
without understanding how those shadows support the program or modify its
stated intentions, HR is really flying blind. Backlashes and unintended
consequences are only to be expected under those circumstances.
Another shadow worth shining a light on is that a focus on process and
other considerations an be taken so far that it excludes performance
needs. Hence the reputation in many organizations of "HR weenies" who are
seen as providing almost zero in the way of real leadership that moves the
company forward. It got to the point that even HR noticed, and began to
think and talk about "strategic human resources" as an approach. Not sure
how much it has actually helped, or if people just read the theory and
talked about it a lot... >;-> Still, it's a start.
Worst of all, however, is the "shifting the burden" dynamic that can come
into play when critical functions are placed in the hands of an
Let me put my personal biases right out on the table here...HR and MIS are
two departments that I'd be inclined to ABOLISH in any company I was
responsible for. Not because I think them unimportant, but that I think
them TOO important to delegate. Sort of like "war is too important to be
left solely to the generals." Well, people are too important to your
corporate future be left to HR. And information technology is too
important to your competitive future to be left to MIS.
I've seen too many managers - right up to CEOs and University Deans - who
abdicate all responsibility in both of these fields, relying by choice or
orders on 'experts' from these divisions to do their thinking for them.
It's THE classic "shifting the burden dynamic" in action. Problem is, when
you aren't making decisions about the selection of your people or your
technological infrastructure, you've just abdicated most of what is really
shaping your future. It's still amazing to me, but hardly uncommon.
The more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that the whole shadow
concept really underpins the way I see both HR and MIS. In my view, both
are possessed of shadows so large and deep as to imperil the
organization's future if they are given an independent base of power.
Instead, my personal preference would be for a small core team as
troubleshooters and architects when called on, and the rest dispersed
among and directly responsible to the line managers. That core would be
the "Training & Learning Department," not "HR". For IT, they'd be
integrated with other key business executives as part of the "Business
Processes Group," thus demonstrating quite clearly that the business needs
and not the technology are in charge.
I'm sorry I read this only AFTER posting my "Sesame St., Barney, and LOs"
message, because some of the concepts there are also directly relevant to
your topic. Don't know how well the concepts would 'travel' to a South
African audience, as I don't know (actually, tend to doubt due to previous
politics) that either of these shows elicit any recognition in your part
of the world.
---------------------------------------------------- Joe Katzman, MBA Communications And Technology (C.A.T.) Consulting "The more you know, the more you can imagine." Phone: (416) 502-2223 email@example.com Fax: (416) 397-4079 ----------------------------------------------------
Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <firstname.lastname@example.org> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>