By Frank J. Rich
In the midst of an economic cold spell, no less the “hot n’ cold” market temperatures whipping it up, the expectations of spring inching its way toward us, the days getting longer, and the hope for an economic thaw growing energy, we take stock of what has drained so painfully through our fingers and from our purses these last years. The exercise in assessment may be more John Naisbitt than Jay Leno, but necessary if not fun. What has happened in the “dreary years”—too many refuse to call the recent “worldwide depression” what it was—since 2007 sifted man, mechanism, and malodorous management and come up wanting. Assessment, though a staple of OD, is the “sine qua non” of vital organizations.
When we lift a handful of dirt from the garden as spring approaches, the assay is felt in the friable content of the dirt. To do well, plants must be in fertile soil, containing no less than nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, and a balanced pH–so too organizations. Endowed of the “right stuff” they will prosper and grow … to everyone’s benefit—employees, vendors, community, and nation. Absent the minimum constituents they will falter and die.
In his arch sentience, E B White, of New Yorker fame, said of New Yorkers: “Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidarity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. Indeed, gifted organizations are no less well endowed by the diversity in this math.
Commuters are the workers who come in the morning and leave at night; never fully invested and quite willing to leave work behind after leaving the office. They are typically in search of a better opportunity though seemingly glad to have a job. Though their coming and going is the disequilibrium that managers hate most—hiring, training, and testing new people are upsetting to process and productivity—attrition is as common as those arriving late to work. In the end, functions must be performed and positions filled.
Natives are the bedrock of organizations. They may not be the best performers but they are always there, willing, and waiting to join the next initiative. They are the people who “chop wood carry water”, as the old Zen saying goes. They inhabit the workplace as no others, warm the organizational ethic, show up on snow days especially if they come the farthest distance, and set the standard for hard work. They can always be counted on to do something, even if not the most creative, clever, or productive something. They are the loyal supporters, the janissary. No claque, the natives are the kedge stone that whittles efficiency from a wooded mass.
Settlers come to stake claim to something uniquely theirs. They are the passionate few, who dare to be different, consider the fun in risk taking, and find security in their qualified oddity. They hatch ideas and are confused when others don’t cotton to them. Undaunted, they charge ahead expecting others to join if only to taste the excitement. They are pure heat.
This is what gives organizations their identity, their blood type. Too much of one cell spells trouble; balance in diversity delivers the promise of achievement—purpose. Ever sentient, E. B. White saw this too.
“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”