Saturday, July 24, 2010

Powerlessness Corrupts

 From the July-August 2010 issue of HBR, comes this column by management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter - "Powerlessness Corrupts".

She posits that in organizations where middle managers are not empowered, they can often act as the stumbling blocks in a company's efforts to execute on some grand vision.
While strategy is cerebral, springing from a few minds as a tidy plan, the messier task of execution requires everyone’s coordinated actions.

However, I believe she gets it wrong when she writes
When companies slash midlevel positions, they often increase the burden on the remaining people without increasing their efficacy and influence— a combination likely to arouse risk-averse rigidity.
Risk-averseness may be one cause of rigidity. I believe the same can occur in quite contrasting circumstances. When there is over-employment, over-staffing at an organization, where middle managers have proliferated without enough responsibilities, the urge to block progress or ideas simply to keep some other group from progressing can be very high. When every group is busy with its own tasks, working with and as a team to make progress on their tasks, the group often has neither the time nor the inclination to put up roadblocks to ideas.
However, I also found this to be very true:
Scarcity feeds resentment. The less there is to go around, the more infighting there is over the crumbs.
Isn't this something that Bob Sutton has described very eloquently in his bestseller, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't?
Powerlessness burgeons in blame cultures. In an insurance company, a top officer known informally for a “big attitude without big accomplishments” dressed people down in public for not working hard enough. Feeling that their efforts didn’t matter, professionals withdrew into their cubicles and found excuses to miss meetings.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.