The recent class action suit against CIBC by one of their star tellers about overtime is I believe only superficially about pay. I argued in my prior post that it is really about how oppressed and voiceless the staff feel in an operational culture that treats staff and clients as atomistic and replaceable individual objects.
I said that I would use the Marine Corps to refute this approach to organization. I will be quoting from an important paper written by Jonathan Shay - talking about the idea of "Cohesion" in the USMC. I attach his paper at the end of this post. His thoughts are very close to mine that I have talked before about in my series on what is a "Human organization.". See the follow on for more on Dr Shay - a great story in itself.
Staff at CIBC are treated as individuals who do not need to be fitted into a social unit where they feel safe and appreciated. They are lead by spreadsheet jockeys who do not share their risks, who may know less than them and who rely on their official status for power. They have an existence of unending routine where the goals are not linked to growing something over time but merely to a set of numbers.
I don't mean to just pick out CIBC - most organizations are like this now. It's just at CIBC that the price for this approach is going to be paid.
This is the machine model. Like all machine models, as it scales so does the friction leading to a point where the organization has to seize up - the point of diminishing returns.
This mechanistic idea is behind much of the weakness of the current US Military model.
In an Army version of this belief [voiced to me (Shay) at a Research and Development Corporation (RAND) personnel seminar] an Army colonel said, “I had a tank company in Germany, and you get a new guy, you want to put him in a tank knowing he’s been trained at Ft. Knox on this same tank. You put him in there and he’ll fight the tank, because he knows what to do.”
This is the late 19th century theory of Management Science known as Taylorism. It had enormous cultural prestige at the beginning of the 20th century when Secretary of War Elihu Root imported it into the War Department, formerly a corporation lawyer for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the course of the 20th century, this theory has become deeply entrenched in the common sense and the institutional policies and procedures of the American forces. By mid-century it led ultimately to policies and practices of manning units individual by individual, and providing rotation and rest and relaxation (R&R) by individual. Taken as a whole, this body of practices is known as the individual replacement system. For many Americans on active duty, this is so familiar and seems so natural that it is as invisible as water is to a fish. An Army officer once looked me in the eye and said, “It’s not possible to do it any other way.”
Almost since its inception in the first quarter of the last century, and especially after every war, American battle leaders in all services have contested the individual replacement system as a very bad fit to what’s needed for fighting other human beings.
The trouble is that they have never fully embraced its alternative - situating people in tight cohesive stable small units and having a leadership that leads from the front.
What can small stable units do that individuals cannot?
General Donn Starry, United States Army (USA), retired, considered by many to be the father of the Abrams Tank, is fond of telling a story about superb tank gunnery he witnessed in Israel. He says he asked, “So how many rounds do you fire every year to get to shoot like that?” expecting the Israeli tanker to answer in the hundreds. He reports his own amazement when the answer came back, “Oh, maybe six or eight.” And then noting General Starry’s astonishment, his informant said, “but remember that we’ve been together in this tank and the ones before it for fifteen years!”
As any coach knows, a team of experts, will often lose to a real team.
A real team also has great situational awareness. They don't lose any energy wondering what the other guy is doing not do they fear taking risks as they know they will be supported.
OBSERVATION: Members of cohesive units are able to take in the environment and focus on the enemy, because they know that others in the unit are covering their backs. No cognitive or motivational resources are wasted in worries about the incompetence, selfishness, or lack of commitment of peers. Leaders (and this applies equally to field grade and company grade officers) experience a similar freeing up of resources when they know their bosses trust and support them. They can focus outward on the enemy, rather than focus inward on pleasing the boss, on looking good, or on institutional structures, politics, and procedures.
ORIENTATION: Because solidarity suppresses fear of the enemy, Marines are able to think. We must root out the folk culture that assumes that the lowest ranks not only can’t think but shouldn’t. Intelligent observation and thoughtful interpretation of the things seen, heard, and smelled must be cherished at every rank. Every rifleman should be as skillful a tactician for the fifty meters directly in front of him as his battalion Commanding Officer (CO) should be for the 5,000 meters ahead of him. When cohesion is absent, mistrust of peers, of subordinates, of superiors clouds the mind with fear at every echelon even when the enemy is not especially dangerous. Properly supported leaders are able to think, plan, and organize (based on mission and what the enemy is doing) far better than leaders living in a “zero defects,” climate of document-it-all-to-prove-you’re-not-to-blame-because-you-were-following-orders-or-the-school-solution. Supported leaders don’t bleed energy and attention into ***-covering (expletive deleted); they are not tyrannized by school solutions; they don’t waste their energy trying to discover imperceptible clues to what would please the boss.
DECISION: Empowering the echelon on the ground in direct contact with the situation entrusts them to make decisions in accordance with the commander’s intent – there is no “waiting for orders.” A “strategic corporal” who is not sure of his people – because he hardly knows them and has no history with them of coming through hard things together – is far less likely to take initiative and make decisions based on commander’s intent. He is far more likely to buck the decision up the chain of command.
ACTION: Decisions stick when they are owned by cohesive units: no foot-dragging, sabotage, or Lone Rangerism. Execution carries full commitment by all because of their real training experiences together. Confident execution.
Because cohesion is a condition of mutual trust and confidence based on concrete familiarity, it frees cognitive and motivational resources for every step in the OODA cycle, improving their quality, and speeding them up. This is true for every echelon from Marine fire team to Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) commander.
Putting the individual into a stable small social unit has the power to shift your organizational gear way beyond the machine.
The other critical ingredient - real leadership - not the white hard hat, not the manager in the corner with a spreadsheet. We are talking Centurions, Royal Navy Frigate Captains, Fire Chief leaders here. People whose experience and actions build trust. Shay asks the USMC if the young marine officers meet this criteria:
Knows his stuff – Do TBS and IOC prepare the young lieutenant to be a life-long learner of the art of ground warfare? ready to learn from their NCOs? ready to learn from experimentation? ready to seek out mentoring wherever they can find it? Or do they create the illusion that the checklist school solution is the final and complete answer?
Knows his people – Do we give our young lieutenants enough time with their platoons to get to know their people? Enough time to develop a warm heart for their subordinates and to protect them?
Knows that his boss is dedicated to his success, and will not abandon him – Do our officer evaluation practices elevate fault-finding above mentoring, teaching, and supporting?
Does CIBC or the Banks your organization pass this test?
I think that there is more to the idea of Enterprise 2.0 than social software and hype. I think that there is one way that nature designed for humans to work together well. Just as there is one design for a wolf pack. One design for an oak forest. One design for a galaxy. We have just forgotten it and replaced it with a simplistic dogma.
Those who want real performance will start to explore this lost knowledge. If you are interested in how to make your organization perform - I have more on my page at reboot9. There I put forward the truths of this ancient and still visible natural system for humans.
SCIENTIST AT WORK -- JONATHAN SHAY; Exploring Combat and the Psyche, Beginning With Homer
At age 40 Jonathan Shay had life by the tail. He had his own lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and several papers published in prestigious journals. He was focused on the biochemistry of brain-cell death, with its relevance to strokes.
But life takes sudden twists. As Sophocles wrote in Athens 2,400 years ago, no one should be counted happy who is still alive. Dr. Shay soon had reasons to contemplate that line, and plenty of time.
That year he turned 40, Dr. Shay, the professional student of strokes, had one of his own. He emerged from a coma paralyzed on his entire left side. Not long after, his marriage ended. The family business -- which had paid the bills for his lively intellectual life through graduate school in sociology, a medical degree and a Ph.D. in neuroscience -- hit hard times. Medical research grants were getting scarcer, so even as he pulled himself together he found his work stalled.
''I had two great educations,'' he said, sitting in his pleasantly cluttered home in this Boston suburb. ''The official one started in the suburbs of Philadelphia when I was a child. Then I had this second one.''
As he was recuperating, Dr. Shay passed the time by ''filling in the gaps'' in his education. He read English translations of the Greek epics, the ''Iliad'' and the ''Odyssey,'' and the Athenian plays and philosophers. That led to another twist of fate, a different scientific destiny.
Nowadays Dr. Shay, 61, is a psychiatrist who specializes in treating the psychological damage combat inflicts on soldiers. His approach is woven out of the different strands of his life: part neuroscience, part evolutionary theory, part psychiatric empathy and part Homer.
When he argues that the military is too prone to treat soldiers as interchangeable parts rather than people, he will cite e-mail messages from Vietnam veterans, historical studies of slavery, work on stress hormones and Book 1 of the ''Iliad.'' He may well be the world's only author who has appeared in Nature, The American Journal of Physiology, Ancient Theater Today and Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College.
Late last year, Dr. Shay published his second book, ''Odysseus in America,'' about the spiritual and psychic pitfalls that await combat veterans returning to civilian life. His first book, ''Achilles in Vietnam,'' published in 1994, compared the experiences of soldiers in the Trojan and Vietnam Wars to argue that war's psychic wounds -- what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder -- have always existed.
Those spiritual injuries, Dr. Shay wrote, didn't arise just from bad luck in combat. They were the consequences of soldiers' feeling mistreated by their own commanders. Grunts who didn't feel cared for by the officers felt what Achilles felt against Agamemnon in the epic.
To his surprise, that book was welcomed in military circles, and he now counts many serving officers as friends and colleagues.
Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, for example, worked with Dr. Shay in the 1990's on a study of Marine practices and was impressed. ''While his proposals are often contrary to 'efficient' use of military manpower, they are, in fact, ways to make our military much more effective,'' General Mattis said in an e-mail message from the Persian Gulf, where he is commander of the First Marine Division. Dr. Shay, he wrote, ''has influenced us to challenge the military's current practices in many areas.''
Whether the military experience is told in terms of brain chemicals like cortisol and dopamine, military concepts like cohesion and morale, or universal human feelings like trust or love, Dr. Shay says: ''These are different refractions of the same beam of light. So there's no dissonance for me going from one language to another.''
Even the meaning of psychoactive drugs, Dr. Shay says, is multiple. When he prescribes the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, he hopes for more than a change in brain chemistry, as the drug alters the balance of serotonin in the patient's brain. The effect is also a psychological experience, as the veteran feels less prone to rages. And it is a social experience, as well. ''Social recognition has a physiological impact, and an S.S.R.I. triggers some of the same mechanisms as that social experience,'' he said. ''Though I know enough about the nervous system to know that any drug we have is a crude simulacrum.''
Like many scientists who cross disciplines, Dr. Shay keeps it all together with a unified, and controversial, theory. He believes that trust-destroying trauma has a single biology and a single psychology, whether it arises from political torture, prostitution, domestic violence or combat.
He has no use for particularists who want to keep separate accounts for the pain of Holocaust victims, soldiers and abused women. The experience of trauma is unique to each sufferer. Meanwhile, its biology is common to all. So comparing one group's pain to another, Dr. Shay argues, is pointless.
Making coffee for a visitor, he moves carefully and sparingly. (Long recovered from his stroke, he says he's a little stiff from moving items in his basement with one of his four adult children.) His tranquillity clearly isn't from lack of feeling. His voice turns to a passionate rasp as he recalls 20-year-old double-crosses and tears up easily as he speaks of his father, a professor of gastroenterology whom he lost at the age of 21.
A slight, bearded man, Dr. Shay somehow manages to seem calm without distance, and reserved yet straightforward. Two decades of working with the veterans have ''scrubbed off'' all that was inauthentic in his manner, he says.
As he recuperated from his stroke, Dr. Shay moved into psychiatry and began working at an outpatient clinic for veterans in Boston. ''I thought I was making my way back to the lab,'' he says, paying his dues by substituting for a vacationing psychiatrist in the hospital's Veterans Improvement Program. The program treated the most troubled veterans and had a reputation as a tough gig.
Then that doctor died. Dr. Shay decided to stick with the program he had fallen into. He felt honored by the glimmers of trust he read in the patients.
''They saw something in me that I didn't see in myself,'' he says.
Meanwhile, he was struck by how much the elements in their stories resembled what he had read in Homer.
''The 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey' depict the moral and social world that real soldiers inhabit,'' he says. ''I thought this was something everyone knew. I wrote up the similarities only because I thought it was a good teaching piece, a way to think about this that clinicians could use to make sure they covered all the bases.''
His daughter, then an undergraduate at Harvard, showed his paper to Dr. Gregory Nagy, her classics professor. Dr. Nagy encouraged him to expand the idea. He rented an office -- his second wife did not want to live with both the Trojan and Vietnam Wars -- and slowly made the paper into ''Achilles in Vietnam.''
A decade later, Dr. Shay's books, papers and lectures remain rooted in his work with the hospital veterans' program. ''I like to say I am a missionary from the psychologically injured combat veterans whom I've worked with for 20 years,'' he says. ''They don't want other young kids to be wrecked the way they were wrecked.''
That wreckage, he added, is not completely reflected in the standard diagnostic manual's definition of something many of them suffer, post-traumatic stress disorder. The manual lists symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares and a fight-or-flight response that cannot be turned off. The deepest danger, Dr. Shay says, is a different trauma, the loss of trust in others.
Achilles in the ''Iliad,'' revolted by his commander's betrayal of the warrior code, drops out of life, an act that leads directly to the death of his best friend. Odysseus' lack of trust in anyone makes him deceive his men, leading to the deaths of every member of his crew. (In any modern military, Dr. Shay says, Odysseus' actions would have led straight to a court-martial.)
The need for trust, Dr. Shay argues, comes from human prehistory. Without claws, wings or other natural weapons, human ancestors survived by watching one another's backs. As a result, Dr. Shay argues, the need for trust is part of human biology. Trust makes us feel safe; feeling safe is good for our mental and physical health.
American troops in Vietnam often could not establish deep bonds of trust because men were rotated in and out of combat as individuals. The troops found themselves fighting next to strangers. Dr. Shay described it as the human need for cohesion being at odds with a military doctrine from the industrial age -- ''replaceable parts, centralized control and a division of labor.''
As a psychiatrist, he finds many of his patients have grievances against their leaders -- for betraying their sense of what is right -- that are as bad as Achilles' against Agamemnon. For one Vietnam veteran, Dr. Shay writes in the new book, an unforgettable violation was watching a friend lose the right side of his face and the fingers of his right hand because his gun jammed during a show staged for the secretary of defense.
Drugs can treat this kind of psychological trauma, he says, and therapy can help. But the best thing for his patients has been to connect and trust. So in addition to therapy, the program puts many clients in touch with religious congregations and arts programs.
Now, after the United States has sent thousands of soldiers to the Middle East, Dr. Shay is recommending steps he hopes will reduce the chances for psychological trauma.
Prevention, he says, is a matter of accommodating people's human needs not to be treated as replaceable parts: send units in and out of combat together, rather than replacing individuals, which leaves people with strangers. The stronger trust that fighters have in comrades they know well is experienced as a sense of safety and confidence. There is nothing touchy-feely about the concept, Dr. Shay said, adding, ''Those are combat strength multipliers.''