Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Post-Modern Management
An exchange

Carol started it by sending an email with the following excerpt:

In the next couple of decades, what's described as perhaps "the most media-literate, sophisticated and cynical generation ever," will take over the reins of power, and the corporate world may be in for a wild ride.
Generation X, raised in an era of massive layoffs and restructuring, isn't interested in company loyalty -- it views work as a transaction where short-term payback is sought. It also tends to distrust hierarchy and formal authority, and confers respect based on merit, not status.

The conundrum for businesses is that the very people most able to adapt to change, who are eager to learn and immerse themselves in new experiences, are also those least likely to want to work in traditional arrangements. So what's a manager to do? Review your company policies and revise them to be as flexible as possible. Make it easy for people to come back if they decide to leave. Accommodate your worker's preferences for location, including offering telecommuting options.

And managers themselves will have to change, too. "What we are demanding of managers has to evolve," says an independent human capital analyst. "The emphasis in management will have to shift from one of ensuring compliance to one of communicating direction, facilitating problem solving and building commitment." (Toronto Globe and Mail 31 March 2004)

To which I reponded:
Not a surprise at all. Much of my job with InterVarsity is managing post-moderns. And, I am a post-modern who is currently managed! I would say, in regards to managing post-moderns (which includes the so-called "GenXers"), that the manager needs to be "for" them. So, it's not so much "managing" as it really is "pastoring" them. That is, in part, what the article is talking about when it says, ". . . communicating direction, facilitating problem solving and building commitment." I think that, managers who are Christians,and whom allow their obedience to Christ to infect their managing, do this intuitively.

Does this mean that managing a post-modern doesn't ever "lay down the law" when it comes to corporate policy? No. But it does mean that, when explaining/enforcing company policy, one continues to be "for" the employee, helping them to understand the "why" of the policy (not just, "because I'm the boss, that's why"), exploring with the employee the effects of the policy on the employee, and being willing to re-visit the policy (or engage the powers-that-be over the policy) if there is injustice or not enough room for grace within the policy.

I think that managing post-moderns for the long-term benefit of the company and the employees has a couple of implications. I agree that one ought to "Review your company policies and revise them to be as flexible as possible." But the truth is that the philosophy behind many company policies is to shield managers from messy/difficult managerial situations.

My intuition is that companies have inflexible policies because:
A) managers don't want to/don't have time to deal with gray areas in personnel management. (I would argue that there are few places in personnel management that aren't gray.) It takes a depth of character to work through gray areas of policy and personal issues well. It takes emotional and intellectual engagement. That's tiring. It's much easier to say, "dems da rules."
B) companies don't trust their managers to be competent to deal with gray (probably because they've hired incompetent managers!), and the company is "protected" from this by it's ironclad policies. Managers then don't have to manage, they just have to enforce the rules.

So, in order for a company to seriously "Review your company policies and revise them to be as flexible as possible," in any meaningful way, there's got to be a willingness to hire and have managers to deal with gray. This is not a chicken/egg connundrum, it's simply a "both/and" issue. You've got to do both at the same time.

For most post-moderns (myself included), the world is almost all shades of gray. We don't see very much black/white, and seriously mistrust anyone who does. What we do see and value are relationships. Which brings us back to managers who must be "for" their employees.

It's hard for me to conceive, as a post-modern, how one would ever manage anyone other than the way I'm trying to describe. I don't think that post-moderns have the corner on this market of how-we-want-to-be-managed, but I do think that, as opposed to "moderns", we have far less patience for institutions that are only black/white.

Walter responded:
I appreciate sociology and terms and the like but aren't they describing youth in general?

"it views work as a transaction where short-term payback is sought. It also tends to distrust hierarchy and formal authority, and confers respect based on merit, not status"

Couldn't that just as well have described the baby-boomers in the sixties?

Paul added his two cents:
That's where the GenX generation got it.

And then I piled it back on:
Yes and no.

In terms of "short-term payback," yes, in my opinion, we're talking about the general short-sightedness of youth. (Present company excluded, of course.)

In terms of "distrust hierarchy and formal authority, and confers respect based on merit," yes, this did describe baby-boomers in the sixties. But while many boomers "grew out" of their phase, I think the case can be fairly conclusively made that there is a culture-wide values change afoot, moving from what can be called "Modernity" to "Post-modernity."
In other words, so-called "GenXers" will not "grow out" of this phase. You, Walter, are thoroughly post-modern, as am I and as Mary is. In general, the things you value (many of which you've learned from the general culture, which btw, doesn't necessarily make them bad) you will continue to value as you grow up, so long as they conform to the Mind of Christ. Your start-up values (at least those which were not overruled by Mom & Dad), were learned in a post-modern world. The fact that you love and value your work at Amplifier so much is based very much on post-modern values. (You might protest, "They're Christian Values I have!" True enough, but most of those values you learned through the culture initially. Many post-modern values are Christian values, which I think is an example of God's common grace to the world.)
In fact, I think that the reason you so whole-heartedly rejected the idea of a job "in business" before and while in college is because you perceived the "business world" to be a thoroughly "modern" world, although this was happening at an intuitive level for you. Amplifier, on the other hand, is a business run with far more post-modern values, if not all post-modern values. And this shouldn't be a surprise, Jef & Justin are poster children for post-modernity.

(An aside: I'm not sure "post-modernity" is here to stay, it may be just a cultural way-point to a new non-Modern culture. In InterVarsity, rather than try to make the declaration that the new 1000 year reign of the "Post-Modern" culture is here, we are calling this new culture as the "Emerging Culture." That is, we recognize that it is after-Modernity and different from Modernity, but we're not sure the final shape it will take will be what people-who-know think of when we say "post-modernity".
Also, I am convinced that "post-modernity" does not equal "anti-christianity." In fact, the post-modern values of community and relationships are far more Godly than the modern values of individualism and function. While we're on the subject, "modernity" did not equal "anti-christianity" either. There were values of modernity, such as the elevation of critical thinking that are not against the Mind of Christ.
What you might say, then, is that in every age, pre-modern, modern, or post-modern, Xtians were being conformed into the Image of Christ, by the power of the Spirit. But in every age, those individuals began at different starting points. For the Modern, they began with the Godly values of thoughtfulness, but then had to be conformed to an understanding of Biblical Community, and submission to the Mysteries of Faith. For the Post-Modern, we begin with an a priori valuing of Community, and Mystery, but we must conform to the understanding of Christ's declaration of himself as The Truth, subjugating all other truth clams.)

Walter got the last (so far!) word:
fair enough.

I don't think that today's situation is near at all the situation of the
60s, I just think they did a poor job of describing today.

Policies have to change because the company doesn't control the information

Anyone else want to chime in?

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