When I was asked to talk
to you tonight I pondered the material I would bring and decided the best
way to share my experience of social ecology in the workplace would be
to tell my story. One of the key things I have learnt from Social
Ecology is the power contained in owning and telling ones own story.
For those of you who do not
know me my name is Kerry Baxter I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister,
a friend, a student and last but not least I work as a management consultant
specialising in People Systems and Organisational change processes.
Tonight I would like to talk
to you about my journey to social ecology, reflect on my work experience
since I began social ecology and share with you some of my dreams for future
journey to social ecology
• Is it possible
to build and maintain organisations that are mutually beneficial to all
stakeholders: , shareholders, employees and communities alike?
• What is the appropriate
managerial response for good stewardship of shareholder money and peoples
• Is it possible to design
organisations that support and encourage true participation by all its
• Is it possible to design
organisations that provide opportunity for individual personal growth?
• Economic and political
power rules our world and every day the concentration of power grows in
the hands of a few corporations and financial institutions. Is it possible
to redistribute the power held by so few?
These are the questions
that led me to social ecology, and ironically they were formed while I
was working on an operational site with 400 miners in the Hunter Valley,
not environmentally friendly my ecology friends have since pointed out.
Nevertheless we often start
our journey to enlightenment in the strangest places, Tenzin Palmo started
in a cave Kerry Baxter started on a mine site.
Having spent most of my working
life in corporations I find it hard to believe that the original charter
of an organisation was that of "... a social invention created to aggregate
private financial resources in the service of a public purpose". Korten
(1995 p.55) I suspect that many in this room would find that hard to believe
and in fact would argue that the organisations purpose has become the generation
of wealth and power. Wealth for a few not the many.
I cannot dispute that for
many organisations this is the reality. With a marketplace run by cultural
heroes who are paper entrepreneurs it is little wonder that we have lost
sight of the organisations original charter. Nevertheless we do have organisations
and there is I believe lots of opportunities for them to add value to our
For most of my working life
I like many of my colleagues believed I added value to the organisation
its employees and their environment. I did my work with integrity, I busied
myself with having all the answers, took responsibility for everything
and everybody, designed performance systems, training sessions, selection
processes, provided counseling and retirement seminars.
I supported people through
downsizing, upsizing, takeovers and mergers all the time believing that
I could do little to change things and this was corporate life in the 20th
century. Nothing to worry about though if you got retrenched you just went
and got another job, and things would get better. In hindsight my perception
of what was going on was narrow and insular. The fact is things have not
got better the trend has worsened and like many of my generation I was
part of a corporate trend that Kortan in his book, When Corporations Rule
the World has aptly called "Corporate Cannibalism".
As I alluded to earlier what
prompted me to seek further study was that I had been working on an operational
site where we had successfully negotiated a Certified Agreement with out
a strike, increased productivity and pay through performance linkages to
production. Introduced a Fair Selection process that enabled the right
person to be selected in the right role together with training and development
programs to support these initiatives. Trust was earned and respect came.
It was hard work. Why was it so Hard?, I didnt understand why there was
so much resistance surely people could see that they would be better off,
I was helping them become consciously competent, self responsible
people, why were they resisting?
This resistance forced me
to question what was going on. I intuited that there must be a better way
to bring about change? What was it? What value did my work add to the employees
life? What was this Corporations responsibility to these people and their
community? Why did they confront these learning opportunities with fear
and dread rather than wonder. I new all these people miners and mangers
alike they were all good people yet we struggled so hard against one another.
Our initiatives were making a difference, we had everyone on the floor
dancing but we were all dancing to a different tune.
Confused and perplexed I
decided to go back to university and get all the answers, in other words
in my truly western fashion I was of to learn how to "fix them". I was
actually looking for a way to support my intuition, but I did not know
Briefcase in hand (not really
the required fashion statement at UWS) I headed off to Social Ecology where
I eagerly awaited the answers to my questions and the appropriate theory
to help me convince the workers to dance to our tune. I have no idea really
why I chose Western Sydney, except for the fact that a few years ago someone
recommended it to me and then a friend thought they might do the GDSE.
Of coarse they didnt go and I did. That is the next thing I learnt
from Social Ecology to trust that the environment will provide you with
what you need to learn - it provided me with Western Sydney and the School
of Social Ecology.
I chose to do the new Organisational
Development major and turned up dutifully to my first lecture pen in hand
ready to write the answers to all my questions. I was most surprised when
some one made some aspersions about corporations and how they were committed
to nothing but doing deals and making money. We jumped to power, chaos,
and complexity, lemniscates and forget the theory. My immediate reaction,
"what am I doing here?" I will never find the way to fix anything here.
Dont they realize how hard I work?
As the week went on I left
my briefcase in my room and I began to explore the rich tapestry of difference
that surrounded me. I felt different, I was in a very safe place, a place
that encouraged me to think and challenge and ultimately learn- a learning
community. The people were varied and wonderful but I questioned what they
knew about organisations and the relevance of what I was learning? Its
okay to play around the edges with all this theory but how do you implement
it day to day? What did fuzzy logic and strange attractors have to do with
Interestingly enough I went
back to work with no "fix it" answers but a feeling of relief, I no longer
felt responsible to have all the answers. The organization was in chaos
but that was okay perhaps something new would emerge, Chaos and complexity
was no longer frightening in fact I was beginning to think that Robert
and Vladimir may be on to something.
ecology influenced the way I work?
Yes, on reflection I have
attended many expensive management courses and been inspired in the moment,
I have read copious amounts of management literature and been left wandering.
It is no coincidence that I ended up at the school of social ecology. I
finally found some ecology models that resonated with my own values and
instincts. Models that encouraged me to view change more holistically,
considering the impact of knowledge, organisation, technology, environment
and values on the system.
In evaluating the work that
I do and the way I do it, I was forced to challenge my assumptions and
paradigms I have branched out into new and somewhat unstable ground, which
I do not mind telling you has been somewhat challenging if not a bit frightening.
How can I fix it? Was the
way I believed I added value. Now I see my value in facilitating change
my role is to listen and resource, the questions are more like, Help me
understand what it is you are trying to say? What you are doing? Where
do you want to go with that? I dont have all the answers and uultimately
if people want to learn or change they must want to do it for themselves
it must be internally driven. My role as a consultant is to help them gain
some awareness of there ability, attitudes, potential and perhaps provide
some kind of reality check, encourage people in the belief that they can
change if they want to .This process has highlighted the value of my own
ability to facilitate and bring together the resources to create opportunity
of the future
We live in a period of rapid
change, and it appears our answer is to do things better, faster, and cheaper.
Todays organisation has to operate with mobility and flexibility. People
fussed by ambiguity, paradox and risk. They have to be imaginative and
inventive and there is enormous pressure to get results. The pressure of
short term goals, are constantly testing the inventiveness and flexibility
of our people and the organisations ability to deliver. People and organisations
are torn down the middle about change. The cost of failed organisational
change initiatives is high, loss of jobs, energy, trust, respect, and credibility,
higher stress, fragmentation, depression, anger and games are the consequence.
We cant effectively thrive
without making money, but that is not sufficient reason for organisational
existence. Organisations generally need to find a balance between economic
terms, their purpose and organisational integrity. I see my role as challenging
and influencing the way the decisions are made. How we deal with recognition,
developmental and use of talent and our human relations, how we treat
our people. When an organisation neglects human relations it negatively
impacts the entire organisation. The creative energies that could result
in tremendous, positive synergy are instead used to fight against the organisation
and become restraining forces to growth and productivity.
What I have learnt from social
ecology is that you can not model organisations on boxes, circles and right
angle because they are naturally occurring, structures. Nowhere in nature
can these pure shapes be found, Without command and control the organisation
will find its rhythms and patterns and allow decisions to arise from the
collective unconscious of all workers, regardless of 'rank'.
To build a society that values
the economy as just one element to good living not the purpose of human
existence is going to take a big paradigm shift from all the people of
the world. As I stand before you tonight I wander what difference I can
make? The truth is that little changes bring can bring about significant
results, if we all do nothing there will be no change and no quality of
life for our children in the future.
I believe my individual contribution
will come from my work with in organisations. By assuming responsibility
for changing myself others may be influenced to recover their ability to
meet their own needs take back their power and assume their responsibilities.
Then and only then will we be able to live in a world that is just, democratic
and sustainable-a society built on cooperative partnerships.
People need new images of
themselves that will help them to thrive in the emerging environment in
which we operate. A new form of organisation is struggling to life. With
the new comes opportunity. How we use this opportunity is the question?