Organisation : Individuals are the basic units of organizations

Margot’s first degree at the University of Sydney was a Bachelor of Education. She moved to Darwin where she headed up Darwin Family Centers. This organization provided child care and family support for the families across the top end of Australia.It was while studying for her MBA that she started working as a business consultant, at the youthful age of 24. Margot works with some of the world’s top companies at executive level, helping organizations in times of crisis, such as after mergers and takeovers. She mentors numerous leading international business figures and conducts workshops and conferences.

She is the author of "Approaching the Corporate Heart", ISBN 0-7318-0655-7, Simon & Schuster.

Margot is Chairman of Zaffyre International, and can be reached at See also her websites at  and

Our new boss is great. He wants to make our organization the model for the industry. He wants us to find out how to bring this about". The two men sat opposite me eagerly looking for suggestions, a way forward. They were existed, switched on. They knew their leader's objectives, they understood his values and they wanted to be part of the transformation. I contrasted this with the client I had just seen who had recently decided to change companies. He had tired of his previous boss's lack of clarity, his playing favorites with those who unquestioningly agreed with him. My caller had sought out (at a substantially higher salary) a place where he would be empowered to use his intelligence and hard won skills and experience to make a meaningful contribution to improving results.

Know your people

Time and time again I see the colossal impact individuals have on their environment. People who are proactive, innovative, courageous and energetic can, and do, bring about change. Likewise those who are conservative, reactionary and frightened of moving forward inhibit both themselves and the people around them. Organizations can rise or fall on the quality of the people they employ. Whether they're at the top, middle or bottom of the organization it is individuals who will transform themselves, their performance and the success of their organizations.

Given this truth it is surprising how little managers seem to know about individuals and how they "tick". The conventional model of organizations has led us to view people in a linear fashion. We see them as a set of behaviors working mechanically towards the achievement of a set of tasks or concrete outcomes. Change we simplistically believe involves getting people to change their behaviors so as to achieve improved or altered outcomes.

Anyone who has ever worked in organizations knows that this belief comes out of "la-la" land but we go on operating as if it is true.

Real people have their own needs, objectives, feelings and psychological patterns of thought, feeling and action. They are highly complex sophisticated organisms who are capable of high order thought, rich spiritual experience and emotional transformation. People have the potential to be great inventors, creators and communicators. In varying degrees they have the ability to foresee the future, read "body language" and process huge amounts of information intuitively.

Real organizational transformation therefore takes all this into account. If we are going to lead or be a significant part of real transformation we had better increase our level of understanding on how real people actually function.

Education and Training

Now, having said that, I wouldn't want to encourage you to seek out some pool of academic knowledge in the belief that it will open up to you all you need to know in this area. People assume that the information they need to bring about radical transformation can be found in a book, video or in a particular course of study. Our education and training has conditioned us to think that learning is an intellectual process. Yet from experience I know that the most successful organizational transformations are led by people who found all the information they needed within themselves. Books, videos and courses can help us only in as far as they open us up to our own learning.

You see, the path to bringing about real change with complex human beings comes through fully exploring the complexity of your own being, including your mind, emotions, spirit and actions. In business we have worked hard to separate who we are from what we do. We have encouraged people to be rational workers leaving all that non-rational feeling stuff at home.

Now we are encouraging people to think of the businesses in which they work as if they were their own. We extol people to be creative and innovative, to communicate and relate well with customers, to learn to understand and meet customers needs while continuously looking for ways of improving. We are asking people to take responsibility for making calculated risks. We expect them to bring more and more of themselves to work.

If we really want them to do this leaders are going to have to bring more of themselves to work. They are going to have to drag their long neglected emotions and spirit out of the cupboard.

I worked once with the top team of a large professional firm. Getting to the top of this firm involved a long and difficult cloning process. Changes in the environment now signaled that the firm and its leaders needed to change. This was a real problem because they had forgotten how to be rebels. They had closed down their natural flare for play, challenge and innovation. Only one leader had retained his ability to be a larrikin. Not surprisingly, it was his part of the organization that led the change process because he could remember how to be himself, how to feel, how to laugh and how to flaunt the rules.

An opportunity

Change presents us with a real opportunity. Organizations aren't the only place where people have been encouraged to give up their basic humanity. The socialization process through which most of us pass so that we can function as contributing members of society encourages us to give up parts of ourselves to fit in. Firstly at home and then later at school we learn to give up those feelings, intuitions and opinions that don't conform to the accepted norms of our parents, teachers and peers. We learn that it is better to be like every body else than to take the risk of being rejected for being ourselves.

Successful organizational transformation actually demands that we reverse this line of thought. Organizations flourish when individuals take the risk of being different, of following their own intuitions, of exploring their feelings and spiritual leaning to uncover the messages and new insights that these can bring. Successful organizational transformation happens when individuals start reclaiming their birth right as beings with huge potential who can make a huge difference in the world in which they operate.

Switched on leaders who have themselves followed this path have the wit to understand and encourage this process. They support people to engage in a wide variety of personal development programs, they give people power and responsibility to make a difference within their own area of influence. Leaders of transformation are constantly on the look out for people with the courage to be different, they encourage those with an alternative point of view. Trend-setting bosses know that when people take control of their own lives they can bring increased value to organizations through increased effort, insights and innovation.

Many managers however are still so stunted in their own humanity and growth that when they have a dynamic alive subordinate they feel threatened. They push these people away, satirize difference and undermine individual empowerment.

These managers badly need to start exploring their own human effectiveness as part of their professional development. Managers that are unwilling or unable (through personal limitation) to do this need to be removed.

Individuals are the basic unit of any change program and it is as individuals from the top to the bottom of all organizations that we need to be growing, learning and blossoming. Organizations full of healthy, alive, innovating and communicating human beings can only surpass their competitors.

© Margot Cairnes 2000

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