A Kinder, Gentler Organization?

There’s an article in Workforce Management that discusses the (debatable) positive impact that a “kinder” workforce culture can have on organizational performance. Honestly, the article doesn’t make a particularly convincing case one way or another. There is an interesting example of a company that cleaned up a contaminated nuclear site SIXTY years ahead of schedule and $30 billion under budget (!), and they think work they had done on “positive organizational scholarship” helped, but there wasn’t any researched cause-effect connection.

And then there are quotes from others who are skeptical and point to other successful companies that don’t have a “kind” culture.

I think it’s wrong to frame the issue as “kindness.” A workplace where people are engaged and excited about the work gets more done. Honestly, I don’t care if you have the research to back that up or not. I’m going to go ahead and push for that outcome anyway. People don’t necessarily need “kindness” to reach that state, but I am skeptical that traditional command and control will get you there. Most of the “kind” approaches in the article were really about changing the command and control model, if you ask me.


  1. 12.07.2007 at 3:34 pm

    Articles and experiences about successful leadership, governance and organization performance are always interesting (and valuable). Research-based or anecdotal, we can learn from almost all modes of sharing information about these topics.
    But shouldn’t we be careful about holding one style or experience up as a universally applicable model? Conversely, shouldn’t we also be careful about models that won’t work?
    Just because something worked in one setting, does it mean that the same thing will work in all settings?
    Doesn’t it all depend on the situation?
    For example, a unit in close combat, rescue workers at the height of hurricane Katrina and emergency response teams at a 4-alarm blaze may very successfully use (singular) command and control types of organization and leadership.
    In different situations, city council members, members of the school board and non-profit association leaders may very successfully use participatory (team-oriented) organization and leadership.
    Both of these styles (and many others) may be appropriate for their situations and inappropriate in others.
    “A workplace where people are engaged and excited about the work gets more done” is an important goal. I wonder if it can be successfully achieved in many ways–but doesn’t success depend on the situation?
    If not, who needs leaders with judgement? Any binary-coded robot should do!

  2. 13.07.2007 at 5:45 am

    Okay, Virgil, I certainly agree about the “it depends” point (the mantra of consultants!). I understand the value of command and control in certain circumstances, and I didn’t mean to imply it is evil in an absolute sense. But I do believe that in the big picture we have gone through (are going through) a big shift, where command and control used to be the rule, but now it is (and should be) the exception.
    I am challenging command and control as a paradigm, not necessarily as a contingent response, and as a paradigm, we need to challenge it. It comes from the Newtonian, mechanistic view of the universe, which to me does not fit, enough, with reality. We are still designing organizations based on this paradigm and—generally speaking—it gets us into trouble, because the paradigm doesn’t match the world. So I want to challenge the way we think, rather than hold up a universally applicable model.