Q&A on Meaningful Management with Charles Chandler

Charles Chandler is a speaker, author, and podcaster (host of ‘The Age of Organizational Effectiveness’ podcast). He founded a management consulting firm (Assumption Analysis, Inc) in 1982, where he has undertaken a variety of assignments for clients over the years. He has worked in 25 countries and has helped formulate major initiatives worth over US$ 80 Billion in countries around the world.

He was a guest on the Humanistic Professionals Lunch and Learn talking about managing for meaningful outcomes.

The framework of meaningul positive outcomes – can help transform work teams and workplaces into self managed groups.  The session was fascinating. Unfortunately we had some connection problems that made the audio difficult to understand in sections.

Mr. Chandler has included resources – including his slides and written answers to questions asked prior to and during the session available below.

Here is a link to his book: https://www.amazon.com/Become-Truly-Great-Organizational-Effectiveness/dp/1946114286/

Here is a link to his slides: Chandler – HMN – Managing for Meaningful Outcomes [9-27-19]

Here is a link to a paper he wrote about this: https://pmsymposium.umd.edu/pm2019/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2019/01/Chandler_Managing-for-Meaningful-Outcomes.pdf

And here is the video of the session. (Please note – Mr. Chandler was experiencing internet connection problems so some of the audio is difficult to understand.

The following are Mr. Chandler’s answers to questions asked by participants of the lunch and learn

1. If meaningful management is about human-centric versus organization-centric, would all we need be complementing output-oriented objectives with outcome/impact-oriented ones? And would all that is needed for this be a change of mindset? Or do we have to unlearn all management techniques that we have acquired?

A. We don’t have to unlearn everything, but we do need a change in philosophy (and mindset). In managing for meaningful outcomes, output-oriented objectives have little meaning, but outcome-oriented ones do. The reason is that the achievement of expected outcomes validates a meaningful (and observable) exchange between the organization and its environment. Outputs, on the other hand, are simply ‘waste’ if expected outcomes do not materialize — because the results chain has failed (i.e., not effective). In my paper (“Managing for Meaningful Outcomes”), the old-style management paradigm of top-down, command & control was described as organization-centric because it was only using a 2-level model where inputs were converted to outputs, all within the organization. That model is largely a closed system, not open to considerations of environmental context and environmental response. On the other hand, managing for meaningful outcomes is about an open-system model where the organization is concerned not only with its own health, but with the health of the environment and the actors found there. Let’s call it system-centric (serving both the organization and the environment) rather than organization centric. It is also human-centric in its values and in its philosophy. While we don’t need to unlearn everything, we need to add other levels to our narrative stack (see answer #17) to tell a more convincing story regarding positive organizational performance — or the lack of it.

2. Meaning can mean different [things] to different people, so my question is how to define what is meaningful?

A. ‘Meaning’ is a common English word and I have tried to define how I am using it in the paper. I am associating it with the results found at the outcome level of a 4-level hierarchy of results (which forms a results chain), because that is the level at which benefits are exchanged with the environment (and we can observe the associated behaviors in the field). [Also see answer # 17 for a description of the 4-level narrative stack.]

3. How do the techniques vary for non-profit organizations?

A. There is no difference in the approach for non-profits, but it can be expected to work especially well in nonprofits while other approaches may not. Prior to a benefit exchange between the organization and its environment, think of the demand-side actors as searching for a measure of eudemony (Aristotle’s version of happiness or flourishing) which has multiple dimensions (it’s not just about the money). This view imparts multiple attributes to the benefits package on offer in non-profits (and other organizations as well). I believe that non-profit volunteers receive social, psychological, and even spiritual benefits as their main compensation, rather than money.

4. How to assess whether outcome is/was meaningful? what would be the comparison/expectation?

A. I am using the word ‘outcome’ in one of its less-common meanings, that is, as an effect caused by an antecedent, but not as a final result. At the operational level, when an organization offers a product or service (or anything else) to its environment, the expectation is for the demand-side environment to respond positively so that the results chain can be deemed effective (i.e., meaningful outcomes can be observed). If it doesn’t, the results chain must be regarded as ineffective. I am not using ‘outcome’ as a final result at the organizational level, as is a more common usage elsewhere. In my book, I use the term “expected external outcomes” (or EEO) which are defined as the demand-side behaviors of “uptake, adoption or use” of a supply-side offering (output) within a defined results chain. Meaning (together with a narrative of effectiveness) can be rolled up to the top of the organization by realizing that benefits at the outcome level are cumulative across the portfolio of offerings (while efficiency improvements at the output level are not).

5. What are some of the metrics organizations can use to manage for meaningful outcomes?

A. “Meaningful outcomes” form a category of results defined in the 4-level model. Metrics, where required, would depend upon the specific context for the results chain in each case. Metrics are often not needed, however, because we are not seeking primarily to measure results on some scale, but rather to verify that the results chain is working. It is more important to look at changes in flow along the results chain over time and try to explain what is happening in order to predict what factors are most important. We seek to understand the system rather than pass judgement on the performance of the players.

6. While managing for meaningful outcomes how do you assure meaningful inputs?

A. Inputs are more likely to act as constraints on results rather than have any particular meaning. Certainly, inputs need to be adequate to facilitate the production of timely outputs (deliverables) on the supply side and to induce meaningful outcomes on the demand side.

7. How do you approach measurement?

A. It is best not to jump to measurement (key performance indicators, or KPIs) too soon. First, we must conceptualize the environmental context and the expected environmental response that would signify meaningful success within a valid results chain. Which visible demand-side behaviors (involving uptake, adoption of use of the offerings) would confirm the viability of the results chain? Actual measurement may not be needed, as a scale will not be available in all cases. Rather, we seek to test the effectiveness of the results-chain hypothesis. Does it induce the expected response in the environment? The model recognizes that actors in the environment are not under direct management control.

8. What are the criteria for “meaningful”? Are they derived from the overall objective of business to produce value to all stakeholders?

A. First, the 4-level logical model distinguishes the supply side from the demand side by drawing a clear line between them. We have stakeholders on both sides of the line. For instance, suppliers, partners, and employees would be on the supply side of a business, while customers and everybody else form the demand side. In my model, the organization exists primarily to serve its environment and to co-create benefits with customers and other stakeholders found there. ‘Meaningful’ indicates that the demand side likes what the supply side is offering and is acting favorably in response by exhibiting the behaviors of uptake, adoption or use (of the organization’s offerings). At the same time (to complete the picture), the organization must self-regulate by embodying positive values within it offerings and actions, and its ‘narrative stack’ (including the input-level, output-level, outcome-level, & impact-level narratives) must convey a meaningful story to all its stakeholders. [See answer #17 for more on the narrative stack].

9. Did you hear about Ethical Leadership Coaching framework?

A. No.

10. Is there any scale to measure meaningful outcomes?

A. “Meaningful outcomes” forms a category of results in the 4-level logical model. The scale to measure meaningful outcomes (from each offering) would depend upon the specific context in which the organization is seeking to serve its environment and the type of response it is expecting in return, but a scale will not be found in all cases (nor is one needed).

11. I am interested in the role of technologies in the mediation of leader-follower relationships.

A. Great! Keep in mind that ‘management’ is a socially constructed technology. I like to say that management is the [meta-] technology that makes all other technologies productive, if done right. In addition to land, labor, and capital, we should add ‘management’ to the traditional factors of production in the economy. When it comes to leader-follower relationships, the old command and control paradigm is primarily based on authority flowing down from the top based on position in the hierarchy. Here, followers are expected to follow because the leader has authority (and perhaps nothing else). In managing for meaningful outcomes, authority is not vested in a hierarchy, but rather is distributed to autonomous teams that are continually experimenting with what works in the environment now. In this case, followers are attracted to team leaders who are doing meaningful things. In a larger cybernetic sense, leaders serve as a system control mechanism that should be activated to stabilize the organization only in special cases. The role of the leader (ideally, of the servant variety) becomes easier and less taxing when the management process works reliably and effectively. In the natural world, viable systems are self-regulating and self-managing, and live within larger and higher-level viable systems. At the global level, the world appears to be spinning out of control because the available control mechanisms do not contain enough variety to address all of the possible states that the global system of systems has exhibited. Only variety can absorb variety, via the first law of cybernetics. One way out is to legislate via government that every organization adhere to a designated “positive meta-goal” (i.e., to demonstrate positive effectiveness within its environment). This would limit the variety of their actions, promote self-regulation and self-management in participating organizations, and would serve to ratchet-up the health of the environment over time. This could offer significant improvements in global stability. Think of this as a level-5 narrative, suitable for global leaders. Also see answer #17 for levels 1-4 of the narrative stack.

12. How does the management of non-financial outcomes differ between organizations at a startup stage versus larger more established organizations?

A. It depends. In startups that are well financed with venture capital, non-financial benefit flows can often be most important in order to demonstrate that their offerings have initial market acceptance. In this case, full monetization comes later. But in startups that are bootstrapping with their own money, financial flows will be key in the startup phase to allow them to keep going. A base level of financial flows to an organization always seems to be necessary to keep the mechanisms of the organization well oiled. Beyond the base level, however, non-financial flows can easily provide the most meaningful view of the organization’s effectiveness and growing future prowess. At the supply / demand interface, actors in the environment are often attracted to the organization’s offerings via the non-financial package of benefits on offer (in search of ‘eudemony’), not just the economic benefits that they may gain in return for purchasing the product or service and using it over time.

13. What metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) do you recommend for managing to outcomes?

A. Please refer to answers #5 and #7.

14. “Meaningful” as an adjective refers to the goals to achieve. If it is, what is new here??

A. I am offering a new 4-level model that can be verified in the field to determine an organization’s effectiveness (OE). This has not been available before, because organizational scholars abandoned the search for a concept of OE in the mid-1980s. In my model, the meta-goal of every organization is the same, to be positively effective within its environment (i.e., to positively serve its environment and be rewarded in return). Meaningful outcomes are defined not at the overall organizational level, but just below that at the level of its offerings to the environment, because outcomes at this level mean that the organization is actively exchanging benefits with its environment. Fortunately, benefits are additive across the portfolio to provide a measure of
organizational effectiveness overall. ‘Meaningful’ outcomes refer to outcomes defined in a specific way, that is, as expected external outcomes (EEOs) in line with one or more defined results chains. EEO behaviors can be observed in the field to verify that the results chain is effective. This approach is more meaningful because it does not owe allegiance to a top-level authority and its associated cascade of goals (as in Management by Objectives), but rather to real-time information on environmental response at the outcome level. With this information, the organization is then free to innovate around the pursuit of positive improvements in the system (the organization and its environment) for the common good. In the new approach, the organizational system remains under the control of its meta-goal (to be effective, using positive values). This involves selfcontrol and self-management under the influence of higher-level goals, meeting the tests of a viable system.

15. How to balance Wisdom and Compassion (or Heart) in organizational processes?

A. I believe an organization that embodies wisdom and compassion is one that is sensitive and open to the context or environment in which it is operating, where its various stakeholders and ‘others’ are found. Such an organization could start by adopting values that, if followed, would serve to self-regulate its activities in positive ways in order to minimize or mitigate external and internal harm. As a check to ensure conformance to the stated positive values, the organization could institute a process whereby instances of conformance or nonconformance to the values could be reported anonymously (then confirmed by an internal team).

16. I’d really like to know how meaningfulness is defined in this context.

A. Meaningfulness is conferred by the appearance of expected external outcome-level results within one or more defined results chain(s) — because this is the level that is linked with benefit exchanges between the organization and its environment. It is at the outcome level that the organization’s supply-side intentions for each of its offerings are converted into the demand-side behaviors of uptake, adoption or use (and a good deal of meaning is conferred when this is successful). Also see answers #4, #8, and #14.

17. The debate between profitability and responsibility and how firm[s] can survive if they focus on meaning and responsibility. rather than profitability.

A. I believe that this is a false choice. If done right, responsibility does not come at the expense of profit. It is not a zero-sum game. Think of profitability as a level-1 narrative (i.e., accounting, via Luca Pacioli in his 1495 book on double-entry bookkeeping), a narrative that has been prominent for over 500 years and is deeply engrained in our culture. Considerations of organizational productivity and efficiency are contained in a level-2 narrative that has been dominate for over 100 years (via Frederick Winslow Taylor in his 1911 book). Meaningful outcomes are found in a level-3 narrative (from my 2017 book). Broader and longer-term impacts can be described in a level-4 narrative (also in my 2017 book). [Also, see answer #11 for a possible level-5 global narrative.] All these narratives can be part of the same narrative stack that focuses on an organization’s performance and results. Outside of the main narrative stack, but integral to its success, ‘responsibility’ is a values-based discussion which is ultimately about self-regulation of the organization. If the organization does not act responsibly, the environment will notice, and other actors will be notified. If laws have been violated, the government may be alerted to administer justice in specific cases. But in the background, a natural-selection dynamic is at work. The environment works to welcome and ensure survival of those that are positively effective (i.e., effective organizations with positive values) while shunning and seeking to eliminate those that exhibit irresponsibility and negative values. Nominally effective large organizations that have exhibited negative values by egregiously breaking the law have been called out and disciplined in high-profile cases (think Enron, WorldCom, VW, etc.). In essence, organizational effectiveness has a valence — it can be positive or negative — and it matters to the environment. It is not ‘the market’ alone that can be expected to extract a measure of justice, as some often claim, it is the larger environment that disciplines bad players (e.g., ISIS, al Qaeda, Bernie Madoff LLC). Some negative organizations can remain largely unscathed for a time (e.g., NRA, Fox News) because they are protected by powerful constituencies, but those protections are not likely to last forever.