I recall the first time I encountered the idea of "asset allocation" many years ago. As the argument goes, the perfect allocation of assets should lead to the greatest return possible in light of one's risk tolerance. Perhaps thousands of years ago, although I haven't studied this in any detail, somebody had the idea that dancing in just the right way might satisfy the spirits enough to cause it to rain. There is the similar notion of delivering the perfect incantation to invoke supernatural intervention. Today as I write, I'm sure that there is somebody somewhere on the planet auditing an inquiry - perhaps to a sales department - to ensure that the delivery of the response is absolutely perfect. Perfection being a benchmark comes with all sorts of criteria that result in data. Some regard this data as "performance" data; but to be more accurate it is actually "conformance" data. Behavioural conformance doesn't necessarily lead to organizational success.

Consider an organization that is struggling. Convinced that its internal perceptions might be clouded in some manner, it might bring in an outside consultant. "Well, based on the information you've provided, I believe that the problem is related to failure to perform [insert perfect dance], [insert perfect asset allocation], [insert perfect magical incantation]." Stunned by these amazing insights, the company ushers in a regime of conformance to ensure adherence to perfect design. The data collected is "conformance data." A company can efficiently and effectively create billions of pencils assuming its assets and resources are properly deployed to this end. Whether or not the company survives is an entirely separate issue. Personally, I haven't bought a pencil in many years.

The interaction between a sales department and the members of the public can be defined from the top down. In this manner, over many years of coming into contact with its market, an organization can nonetheless become alienated from it. Clients might be unhappy with many aspects of products and services; yet the data system is not necessarily designed to record and, more importantly, access these details. But the data system can probably confirm behavioural conformance. Managerial science was once premised on efficiency through conformance - leading me to sometimes describe it as micro-managerial science where people learn about micro-managing operations. "If you bend your back at a 33-degree angle using this specific shovel at 15 second intervals applying exactly 20 pounds of force, you will optimize the amount of coal that can be lifted from this heap." I just made that up. I just wanted to demonstrate what I mean by micro-management.

I once heard a story about a company that is now bankrupt. A service technician fielded a grievance from a superior about some advice he had given a client about igniting a gas appliance. The comment to the technician went like this: "The legal department backs up our official documentation. When dealing with clients, you must give advice consistent with the documentation." The technician countered at first, saying that the advice in the documentation seemed more likely to lead to an explosion. He also pointed out that the legal department is full of suits not trained to deal with explosive gases. In any event, as a result of the meeting, the technician felt legally covered in the event of an accident; so of course he relented. Not long thereafter, somebody else fielded a call precisely relating to ignition; this individual did indeed give advice consistent with the manual. There was a huge explosion over the phone . . . followed by silence. It did not end . . . until he hung up.

What people present as the "perfect cheer" can sometimes cause a company to go bankrupt. Nobody can say that this particular "incident" caused the company to go bankrupt. Behavioural conformance is something deeper and more pervasive. Generally speaking, I think that companies often do what they set out to do. The consequences of what they do might not be apparent until later. As such, the entire regime of data, it should be noted, might be premised on socially constructed preconceptions and ideals; and sometimes this just isn't all that business-friendly. Anyone can dress and sound the part in order to seem more professional and insightful. I have done some research in this area - real research. I know that people can enter a conference room without a strong grasp of what they are talking about; nonetheless, they can reach conclusions that seem - maybe plausible is the word. But arriving at a game plan, coming to a decision, or even reaching consensus should not be confused with success.

Sometimes the team will still lose even if the cheer if perfect. It's possible the cheer is fine, but the team itself sucks. But if the team sucks, the cheer in order to accurate should be, "Our team sucks. We're going to lose." No, of course I don't expect this to ever happen. Still, nobody should want perfect cheering to be a substitute for true performance. The data system - including all of the people involved and interacting with that data - has to be focused on true performance rather than behavioural conformance. The intellectual capital has to be handled using thoughtful management techniques rather than micro-management. Among the key uses of data in any organization is to understand the client, business setting, and I am going to include here the effectiveness of the organization. Not all of these things can be controlled from the top. Arguably, the top has difficulty controlling anything except the general direction of the organization and its broad strategy. Efforts at decentralization, deliberation, and definition are important. By definition, I mean that we give clients a chance to define the company. When a company defines its clients, and the clients do not fit, there might be no room for them; and they leave at the first opportunity.

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Tags: alienation, allocation, asset, conformity, constructed, construction, decentralization, insensitivity, intervention, intolerance, More…invisibility, management, managerial, metrics, organizational, performance, philosophy, preconceptions, principles, scientific, socially, techiques


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