The Existing Management Conditions Limit How Effective New Strategies Will Be

Guest post by John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

Over time, I have learned that one of the challenges in implementing Deming and Ackoff’s ideas are the underlying expectations for the organizations that are missing. What happens is, people take ideas from Ackoff and Deming and decide that using that idea without changing how the organization operates is easier than trying to implement fundamental change. That is true. The problem is that often their desire to make things easy means that the organization contains conflicting practices that often mean the ideas they are adopting either don’t work at all or only provide a small amount of benefit compared to what would be achieved without those internal conflicts.

This results in a difficult situation. Organizations cannot be transformed overnight. And so, realistically, some practices have to be adopted while the overall system is largely unchanged. This can be done. The challenge is to do so while recognizing the limitations of such an approach. You have to take great care to adopt strategies that are able to work in the existing organization. It is also important to choose new practices that will do the most to move the organization toward one that can adopt more and more of the beneficial practices going forward.

I have written several related to this challenging topic: Building Adoption of Management Improvement Ideas in Your Organization, Transforming the Management System of an Organization, Growing Your Circle of Influence, How to Start Applying Deming’s Ideas on Management, Psychology of Improvement

This is the second video from a day with Russell Ackoff presentation (from 2004). See our post on the first video: Ackoff on Leadership and Transformation.


Consensus is often a challenge to achieve in many organizations. But as you create a culture of continual improvement, with an understanding of incremental improvement, the objections that often result in obstruction to any changes, common in many organizations, can be overcome. Ackoff puts in well:

Consensus is agreement in practice, not in principle. It’s agreement that something is better than something else, not that something is the best possible.

In my experience, many organizations struggle to manage with consensus. It is my opinion that the problem is that managing with consensus takes a level of management maturity that most organizations do not have today. But as an organization transforms to managing using the vision of the organization as a system, then managing with consensus becomes an effective management concept. But the effectiveness of managing with consensus (or any other management tool or concept) depends upon the existing management system, capability, and culture of the organization.

Russell Ackoff talks about the importance of influence over authority to get things done in organizations. This idea is extremely important but isn’t appreciated by most people. Sure, many people would accept that statement, but most of what they do, and how they think, is based on the authority mindset. (For example: organizational chart, performance appraisal, “who is responsible,” the idea that managers should be excellent at the work they are managing [rather than being excellent at managing which is often much different]…).

Ackoff quoted a report saying that people are allowed to use 22% of the knowledge they possess. I don’t believe the data in such reports. (I haven’t reviewed this one, but I never found any others I reviewed as credible.) But the idea that our management systems greatly limit the value people can provide at work, I believe.  (Related post: The Greatest Waste and report by my father – Two resources, largely untapped in American organizations, are potential information and employee creativity.) Our management systems greatly reduce the performance our organizations would be capable of with better management systems.

The video has a bit of a glitch. Starting at 38:50 to about 47:52 repeats an earlier part of the video (so you can skip over that time in the video).

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