--By Vaijayanti Khare
In the early 20th century, an organisation was defined as "a system of consciously coordinated activities of two or more persons". It added further that the survival of any organisation depends on its members’ ability and willingness to cooperate, communicate, and work towards a common objective. Even today, this simple wording is the best one to sum up an organisation.
The word itself shares its root with ‘organism’, ‘organ’ and ‘organic’. So, it is fair to ask whether it has a “mind” of its own, whether its various units and departments are not but the ‘organs’ that take on the various functions of survival and success, or even that of going senile and even, extinct.
Is the organisational mind, then, the mind of the persons who bring it about, who run its operations, who chart out its growth, who make adjustments and development possible? We’ll come back to this mind later on in this article.
Much of what is being written today about doing business in the new economy is characterised by a sense of energy, urgency, and opportunity. We hear about developing transformational leaders, building strategic alliances, launching global product platforms, leveraging technological breakthroughs, first-mover advantages, global venturing, outsourcing, sustainable supply chains, and, most of all, making money. Action and winning seem to be the operational words. Discussions about business assume a sense of perpetual dynamic equilibrium. We are told that nothing is certain except change, and that winners are always prepared for change. We are also told that global business is like white water rafting, always on the edge. Everything is in motion and opportunities abound.
You do not need to go far to read or hear this. Just be within earshot of our local-gone-international businessmen, the younger generation of business houses and managers – and you will hear these words and jargon almost always.
There is, however, a somewhat more troublesome side to this talk of businessmen and business that is discussed far less often, yet is equally important. This side is characterised by mutual distrust, perpetual delays, ongoing cost overruns, political and economic risks and setbacks, continual misunderstanding with suppliers and distributors, personal stress, and, in some cases, lost careers. This downside has several potentially severe consequences for organisational success. And yet, it is fashionable to come across as ‘being in control of’ or worse still ‘being as if it does not exist’.
There is a fundamental shift in the nature of geopolitics and thus the way business is done. The days of hegemony – East or West – are over. No longer will business leaders focus on one or two stock markets, currencies, economies, or political leaders. Today’s business environment is far too complex and interrelated for that. Contrary to some predictions, nation-states and multinational corporations will remain both powerful and important; and we are not, in fact, moving towards a “borderless society.” And global networks, comprising technological, entrepreneurial, social welfare and environmental interest groups, will also remain powerful. Indeed, networks and relationships will increasingly represent power, not traditional or historic institutions. And future economic and business endeavours, like future political, social, and environmental endeavours, will be increasingly characterised by a search for common ground, productive partnerships, and mutual benefit.
When faced with this increasing global challenge, organisations have two choices. First, they can assume that they are who they are and the world should adapt to them. (“I am a Nepal-based company with indigenous traits, and everyone should understand this and make allowances.”) Or, second, they can work to develop greater multicultural competencies which allow them to either adapt to others where possible or at least understand why others behave as they do. (“I am a Nepali company that is working to understand the cultural context in which my stakeholders and counterparts operate.”) While both approaches can work, the latter one of working to develop increased multicultural competencies and system capabilities offers greater potential benefits in the long run.
A flashback through the creation and evolution stories of our organisations, businessmen and business houses will be a kaleidoscope - we see that facts and realities often have transient meanings, and can change across time and persons; we learn that neither individualism nor collectivism is inherently good; that mastery and harmony can at times work in tandem; and that time has many different definitions and applications. That calendars and stopwatches do not necessarily lead to meaningful progress. We see that goal-directed behaviour is often complemented, not displaced, by the more jumbled intersections of multiple simultaneous activities. We see that both rules and relationships could create a vibrant and committed multicultural team that works closely together in a spirit of both flexibility and goal orientation. We see that non-linear systems could often trump linearity in both quality and completeness. We learn that cultural friction between partners is often a desirable quality, not something to be avoided. We see that assuming a leadership role can be both loud and assertive or quiet and subtle, but both approaches involve manipulation.
The idea of ‘organisational mind’ is used as a metaphor here to emphasise the dynamics expected of the various players inside the firm. The core is the ‘decision-making’ and the ‘strategy’. The manner in which this core operates resembles “thinking” and often it is the combined cognitive inputs of members and groups, each thinking independently but hopefully moving towards a more intelligent organisation.
Given that we are firstly and mostly family-owned business houses growing into conglomerates, more is the need to understand that the semi-globalised business world now will make no allowances for a ‘weak mind-ed’ organisation. There is no place for a feudal style of operations, or an isolated stance of practices or even the blasé approach to professional management. An intelligent, learning organisation is a conscious and continuous exercise towards making it so.
Vaijayanti Khare is known for her dynamic engagements in the corporate, academic, social and development fields in Kathmandu over the past decade. Her writings are a reflection of her hands-on work, insights, studies, success and challenges.