Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

Tending the Fires of 21st Century Organizations

Making Use of the Bellows

Sometimes I pump up the fire a bit, by using the bellows that I inherited from my father. The increased air (oxygen) flowing over the burning logs and embers will temporarily increase the burn. However, I find that this is not a long-term solution. While my bellows represents heritage (my father) for me, it is actually a tool for refreshing and energizing a fire. Heritage meets renewal. There is a fresh, creative idea that is blowing through an organization. It is refreshing and energizing—and often harkens back to the early exciting life (and enduring heritage) of the organization when intersecting ideas were to be found in abundance. However, this idea, in isolation, is rarely sufficient to keep the organization operating in a sustainable manner. The fresh idea might not do any harm if it requires no major change or adjustment, but it is unlikely to have a lingering impact.

I are reminded of the many consultations I have done where leaders of an organization want one of my bright new ideas. They have read one of my books and believe that the ideas contained in this book could make a difference in their own organization. I am brought in to deliver a speech or meet with the Board of Directors. This is often a source of ego-gratification for me—and it might a source of some income (greater than what I get from book royalties). However, I fear that there is minimal long-term impact. My “hot-air” (push of the bellows) might offer some inspiration (a brief flame), or at least some respite (I am often brought in during the dead of winter); however, a concerted and systemic strategy must be engaged that goes well beyond my speech. I am reminded of the requirements for successful change and development that were offered many years ago by Goodwin Watson (Watson and Johnson, 1972). Attention to matters of organizational structure, process and attitudes (culture) are all required – an idea being offered in only one of these three domains can rarely be enacted in a sustainable manner.

Valuing the Embers

The embers of a fire are like the lingering reputation of the organization and its products and services. The embers provide some additional energy for the fire—but are not active agents in the ongoing burning of the wood. The embers also provide some warmth that emanates out from the fireplace. It seems that embers represent both what lingers and what remains as a memory of a fire that has been well tended. In an organizational setting, embers are the memories that remain of a program or organization’s history and life span. At the very least, organizational embers are represented and retained by those members of the organization who are Remnants (definition: “small remaining quantity of something”). These long-standing employees represent the values and purposes that existed at an earlier point in the life of the program or organization. It is often the case that remnants represent those values and purposes that were present when the organization was formed – or reformed. They may actually have been present at the organization’s formation or re-formation. Alternatively, they have been appreciative recipients of stories regarding the founding or restoration of the program or organization.

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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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