Risky management: Seeing something new about your company – lecture at CBS

“Actually, I saw something new about my organization, that I didn’t see before,” said one of the participants at the end of a lecture I did at Copenhagen Business School a few days ago. She was a senior manager in a large organization and I was asking wether the model we had worked with during the afternoon was of any use to the participants. She had seen something new. To me that’s a big thing and about as good as it gets. Most managers don’t see anything new most days, as they are primarily focused on communicating how they have been seeing things for a long time, and a lot of them are not keen on admitting it when they do see things in a new light. After all, managers are supposed to see it all clearly from the start, long before everyone else, right?
Seeing new things about your organization and discussing your findings is a really good starting point for keeping what’s precious or changing the things that call for change. But too often we don’t take the time to ask and listen, rather than talking. So when a tool for looking at the organizational identity helps a top-manager see new aspects of the organization, it’s a good thing. It’s the foundation for strategic choice; What are you going to allocate more resources and what are you going to limit?

I was lecturing at Master of Management Development, a focused executive MBA-program for senior managers at Copenhagen Business School. MMD is a special place for seeing new things. One of the primary skills that the program develops in the participants is challenging the way things are perceived. There’s never one true meaning of things, there are as many as there are people and relations between them. So in a sense it’s a great place to present your work, because people want to use the tools at hand to shed new light on their ideas of the company, structures, organization, management, systems and so on.

Professor Majken Schultz had invited me to join the program for the day (just like we did with the last class, two years ago), to talk about authentic organizational identity, the concept I developed while writing my thesis from the exact same program in 2006. The model and the methodology that I’ve developed in a conceptual framework helps people see the identity of the company in new ways. After presenting my ideas on organizational authenticity we split up into 9 groups and each group worked on one of the specific questions that I’ve developed to discover the authenticity of the company on three dimensions:
  • Heritage Authenticity
  • Reflexive Authenticity
  • Expressive Authenticity
When we started working on the model itself, I suggested scoring the authentic identity of the MMD program itself. Does the program use it’s history? Does it have beliefs of it’s own? Does it express it’s authentic identity? Everyone was really getting into the exercise, wanting to discuss how several different organizations performed on the three dimensions of authenticity. I was running from one end of the blackboard to the other, sketching up the profiles of the examples brought up. After a few examples one participant brought the process to a halt. “I might see it as very authentic, but my customer would probably see it differently…” he said. And that’s one of the things that make the perception of image, identity and the authenticity of an organization so interesting. The truth (if there is such a thing) really depends on the person or the group you ask. The management group, the employees, the customers and the media might see the authenticity of the company in very different perspectives and rate the degree of authenticity of the company accordingly. But when you do ask them, you’re bound to see something new about your company – and you can never go back to ‘unsee’ it again.