The Synoptic Problem

15 12 2010

Missed out on my Monday morning bus-ride this week (which as an experience usually more closely resembles dashing out of control down a frozen rocky mountainside in a troika and which therefore makes writing my blog on my netbook on my lap both entertaining and time-limited – my rule is that I must finish and post before I get off…), so this is not the real deal. More a simple reflection, but one which anchors us back to the OS4Talent agenda.

I have borrowed the title from another field of research (hands up if you recognise it), but this is what I mean by it here: think of your favourite tool for understanding yourself and others better. It will either be a profiling tool of some kind; or, for those who hate profiling tools, it will be some kind of structured interaction, team-building exercise or whatever. Now think of your organisation, whether that is 3 people or 30,000. Now tell me: a) how easily can you assemble the data from your favourite tool for your entire organisation and b) how meaningful is it when you do. In other words, can you get a meaningful synoptic (literally “seeing [everything] together”) view of your organisation from your favourite tool. At sizes over 20, most team-building and interaction approaches will start to stumble, but what about profiling tools?

Now there is a genuine invitation to speak up in favour of your favourite tool here. I have tried without success to visualise what I would make of MBTI or DiSC / Thomas or Belbin or Insights or WAVE for a Sales Division of 300 people; but I may be missing something important. My impression is that when framed this way, the answer is simply “you are trying to do something with this tool it was never meant to accomplish”.

At the heart of our OS4Talent approach is a tool, the Birkman® Method, that was designed for precisely this application, i.e. understanding people in a social and organisational context, with no upper limit on how large the organisation or social context could be. To answer my own scenario, I have indeed looked synoptically at Birkman data from a Sales Division of 300 people and instantly been able to identify hugely significant attributes and characteristics of that group which explain performance and cultural issues they have been encountering. And no credit to me – an average 3-year old could spot the patterns (although I like to think they might struggle to articulate their significance).

So why am I writing a blog called OS4Talent? After 10 years working with the Birkman Method, I can’t understand why this tool, with its genuinely unique ability to measure and analyse organisational culture and capacity and to inform the management of talent isn’t yet as ubiquitous as getting electricity out of a socket in the wall. I have not yet found a situation where this particular “operating system” fails to deliver; but whether the answer is Birkman or a tool you know of and I don’t, here’s the real thing: isn’t this really important? Mapping, accurately, your organisation and being able to view and use that data as if it was your monthly management accounts, in order to make and implement better decisions?

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