The best fiction is often a compelling allegory or parable of reality.
The best fiction is often a compelling allegory or parable of reality. In the movie The Matrix, we see our hero, Neo, becoming confused by strange aberrations to his normal dull existence, until one day he is confronted by a choice, to take the red pill and find out, or the blue pill and everything becomes usual and familiar again. Morpheus says to him,
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”The Matrix
Neo takes the red pill and the nightmare appears to begin. He sees reality, and it is shocking. He and other human beings being farmed for their energy, whilst unwittingly thinking they are living normal lives.
This is, I believe, a good parable of what we have done with some traditional management approaches. We have been reduced to parts of a machine. We feel we must follow the process to function and so be of value to the system. When we are no longer useful, we can be dispensed with and retired.
In a previous article, I explored the phenomenon in human relationships where positives attract; that is, where genuine positive regard for others is often a surprising means of influence. This is a strange phenomenon, where the physics of human relationships are the opposite of those in the material world.
If positives attract in human relationships, then the negatives ones drain.
Where scarcity is acute in organisations, the culture shifts towards task orientation and away from serving people. People in that organisation, begin to experience undue stress and it damages relationships around them. This erosion of relationships becomes particularly mission-critical in service organisations, where valuable clues are picked up by serving the customer well.
Here in the UK, I see this in public sector schools, as well as in the state-funded National Health Service. The drive to maximise the use of these scarce resources by central government departments expresses itself in adding more exacting targets and micro-controls on the practitioner.
The public education systems seem to distract the focus of the teacher from helping their students. The teacher has increasing demands to satisfy operational targets. They seek to meet their external targets, write reports, and so on. They no longer have the time and energy margins to craft learning paths tailored for each child.
Highly-trained physicians can only give 10-minute surgery appointments, 20-minutes if you are depressed(!). Fewer and fewer general practitioners can bear the demands of working fulltime. Nurses who began their careers from some sense of wanting to care for the sick and vulnerable, now see themselves in a stressed system that exhausts them and makes them ill. Sick leave and vacancy rates rise as career lengths shorten.
Yet more policy measures only seem to remove more margin from relationships vital to healing. I see these aspects of fear and blame and they create a quite toxic culture. Like some autoimmune disease where cells start attacking other healthy cells, everybody loses out.
It’s time to find the positive outliers in these cultures, those people, who despite it all, still get exceptional results. We need to study them, find out what they are doing, and help them to support their colleagues in doing likewise. It’s time to question top-down performance mandates and look for exceptional excellent within our organisations before they are driven out as part of the by-product of our change initiatives.
It’s time to do something brave and unplug ourselves from the Matrix body farm of target-driven excess.
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