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Dave Snowden

Professionalism?

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Having posted on expertise yesterday I found myself thinking about the issue in the course of a six hour drive from Cardiff to the Lake District: I’m working in Newcastle tomorrow so selected the mountain range en route with the best prospect of decent weather as a staging post which mans tomorrow, following the Lions v AB match will see me on a round of Borrowdale.

My thoughts turned to when expertise is legitimate and also, as ever, to context. That brought me onto the wider questions of generalist v specialist and then a conference call en route (hands free is a wonderful thing) connected all of that to Organisation Development. That in turn reminded be of one slide from an archetype project in South Africa with Sonja some years ago which opens this post.

The context of the project was looking at the attitudes of head office staff in a research agency and the image I share was one of the negative ones. If you see a bright eyed bushy tailed researcher as a office worker of glorified secretary then you have a problem understanding the core capability that provides value to your organisation. That was one of a series of negative images by the way and I used them in an article on the subject for those interested in archetypes on narrative work. The link I made to exercise is the growing fragmentation of what used to be generic management capabilities into a series of separate professions.

It used to be be case that a good manager, particularly a senior manager, was more than capable of handing a range of tasks such as organisational development, staff motivation, strategic planning and the like. In consequence, while things were a little mess, organisations generally evolved over time within loose constraints. The HR function, generally an early requirement role for someone with a military background, provided support and what I would now term a tethering constraint, that is to say a checkpoint to make sure that overall there were no major failures and things moved forward in generally the right direction.

Then we get the systems period and the engineering metaphor with which I recommenced by daily blogging a few days ago. HR went from a small part of the organisation to a multi-level, multi-disciplinary and (in my experience) increasingly bureaucratic function staffed by professionals with various certificates but little operational experience of management. They dealt with the organisation as a whole based on averages, rather then the particular context of individual operational units. Within the engineering metaphor you can see why this happened. In effect it ends up the CEO suffering from Stockholm Syndrome in respect of his or her various functional departments. The danger is that managers then delegate to the specialist and increasingly skills of judgement based on contextual understanding atrophy though lack of use.

I feel a matrix coming on, looking at legitimacy and generalist/specialist but that will wait for another day.

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