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Managers, are you creating a community or an organization?

By Dr. Steve M. Cohen

There is a managerial question that is often overlooked: Is your office a community or an organization?

A community is, by definition, inclusive. An organization is, by definition, exclusive. Let’s use the military as an example of an exclusive organization. When people enlist, there are ranks to climb with each level being more selective and more exclusive. If they are accepted to an officer program, there is still a progression, from lieutenant to captain to major and on up to general. At each step, the ranks become more and more exclusive. Either way, the idea is, “You follow our rules, our policies, meet our expectations, and you get promoted and get other benefits.” At each step, the selection process is increasingly exclusive.

A community is a different animal. By definition, a community is more and more inclusive. A group that strives to become a community makes room for its members. If a person has an anger management problem, the community accepts and deals with tantrums and diatribes until they don’t seem so extreme. If a person has a substance abuse problem, the community puts up with him or her being undependable, angry or even jovial. We adjust to deal with whatever behavior comes until that behavior becomes “institutional” for that person. Another person may be obnoxious, so we adjust and put up with the behavior until it doesn’t seem so obnoxious.

In reality, to become a true community, it takes much more effort and time than it takes to become an efficient organization. In becoming a true community, something great is accomplished. Tolerance is perfected, horizons are expanded and people eventually evolve. All this is good, but the time and effort this takes is usually beyond the scope of business or most office operations. This is different from a business deciding to “go green” or deciding to take on a mission. It ultimately redirects the focus and efforts of most, if not all, the office operations.

The evolution of a group into an organization is actually easier and more time and process efficient than creating a community. By definition, an organization is focused. If the objective is to make money, then becoming an organization is the best answer. You have a “hard target” and can efficiently direct your resources to that end. Even for nonprofit organizations, full implementation of a community philosophy is not likely to prove practical.

Understand, I am not suggesting immoral or unethical Darwinism—ethics and morality should always be injected into the organization. Even for cynics, ethics and morality have clear and proven benefits. Besides the brand or community relations value, staff members are humans, not robots. A balance needs to be maintained; otherwise, you’ll have morale issues. But “keeping your eye on the prize” is a first priority for organizations. Otherwise, they are not likely to remain solvent.

A related issue involves the government’s apparent desire that businesses evolve into communities. Using some well-known management terminology, governments and higher education settings are “low-task and high-relationship” in their design. Business tends to be oriented toward “high-task and low-relationship.” My counsel to clients is to elevate the relationship side of the equation, but focus on productivity and performance first. Everything else comes second.

Dr. Steve Cohen is Principal and Lead HR Consultant at HR Solutions: On Call, an advisory service for medical practices and other small businesses.










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