Cracking the code to people power

The Healthy Organization

May 2, 2003

This book is not about creating a physically or emotionally healthy organisation but rather an effective and efficient one. It is based on the author's theory of decision-making accountability, or DMA, which he suggests, in this play on letters, is the genetic code of a healthy organisation.

He pursues the metaphor by saying the DMA of an organisation is like the DNA in humans. For example, "excessive numbers of decision-makers and channels for decision-making clog the arteries of vitality" or "a lack of well-defined and clear accountability leads to organisational sclerosis and inefficiency". This type of allegorical writing on a topic such as organisational design and change makes a potentially dull and turgid subject lively. There are also nice touches, such as "salmon fallacy" - the notion that if you get rid of the worst-performing employees it will necessarily improve organisational health. As the author puts it: "If 100 salmon are swimming slowly upstream, culling 20 will not enable the remaining 80 to swim faster. The problem is the prevailing current, not the efforts and abilities of the salmon."

The book outlines Brian Dive's theory on improving organisational performance through DMA, which is based on two major projects at Unilever and Tesco. He claims that unhealthy organisations result from unclear accountability, inappropriate forecasting of the future, the arrogance that sometimes arises with profit and too much success, bureaucracy through job grading and other recent human-resources innovations, over-emphasis on "control freakery" and an obsession with executive titles (for example, vice-president for knowledge management), too much promotion from within, too many layers of management, and so on.

These are not necessarily new ideas, but they are put in a very readable, coherent and articulate way. The DMA model is organised into a set of principles and steps, and it is this that will appeal to many senior executives who are looking for structured answers and solutions to making their organisation more accountable and their decision-making processes more efficient. It is highly prescriptive in the tradition of US business-book culture, and the total philosophy of DMA might be hard for many to swallow, but if you persevere there are gems to be found. The bottom line is that for organisations to adapt, they need to accept change and question traditional wisdom - or as Churchill once said: "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often."

Cary L. Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

The Healthy Organization: A Revolutionary Approach to People and Management

Author - Brian Dive
ISBN - 0 7494 36298
Publisher - Kogan Page
Price - £25.00
Pages - 288

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