E C O - R I N G 

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 Herclitus Time
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 A talk by Kerry Baxter 
presented at the 
 Inaugural Alumni Focus Group Meeting 
May 2000
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"One of the key things I have learnt from Social Ecology is the power contained in owning and telling ones own story".

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An organisation "... a social invention created to aggregate private financial resources in the service of a public purpose" or "corporate cannibalism"
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Kerry Baxter


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 organisations.

My personal 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 lives?

Is it possible to design organisations that support and encourage true participation by all its members?

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 society.

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 that then.

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 work performance.

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.

Has Social 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 for change.

Organisations 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.

In summary

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?

Herclitus Time is a river you can not step into twice
We have to learn to do it right as we go 

Thank you

Kerry Baxter 

May 2000-05-29
A talk by Kerry Baxter presented at the Inaugural Alumni Focus Group Meeting May 2000


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S.E.E. invites you to tell your story
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© 2000 Zulenet