Human being is characterized by an ability and a need to socialize. The dependence on, and relationship with, other human beings is one of the key shapers of human relations in an organization. While individual plays a very significant role in organizational performance, his or her performance as a member is dependent on his or her social characteristics. There are many efforts to describe the social skills or personality traits. Broad spectrum descriptors such as extrovert or introvert and narrow spectrum adjectives such as adaptive, flexible, aggressive, docile are often used to characterize personality types, and encourage people develop on the lines relevant to their teams, and the organizations. In each case, these are further described by several other adjectives or sentences, which lead to considerable ambiguity.
The issue with the use of general language is that many of these words are general purpose and open ended. For example, when one says adaptability is a desired characteristic, questions arise as to “how adaptable is adaptable”. More fundamentally, the question is whether it is unquestionably desirable to be adaptable without any limits. Several other descriptors raise similar doubts. For example, does it pay to be uncompromisingly tough when dealing with business partners across a negotiating table? The actual business practice, in due course, lets people know the desirable and avoidable limits. Still, the need to have better descriptors at a fundamental level remains. In this context, certain scientific and technical terms become useful as powerful descriptors of appropriate personality traits, and in some cases the organizational constructs themselves.
Ductility is the characteristic of certain metals that enables them be converted into fine threads. Most precious metals like gold and silver possess this property. This property enables the precious metals to be shaped into intricate jewels, enhancing the desirability and value. Individuals in organizations also need to be ductile, to be able to be drawn by experienced mentors and leaders into strands that hold the teams and organization together. Ductile persons are persons who can wade through cross-functional complexities of an organization, and hold the different sub-units together. Like a master craftsman who understands the limits to ductility of a metal, the expert coach also understands the appropriate limits to ductility to which a person can be subjected to.
Malleability is the characteristic of a metal that enables it to be pressed or formed (or occasionally hit) into different shapes without breaking or cracking. From a people perspective, malleability denotes the ability to be influenced or changed. Malleability is the most important characteristic that needs to be possessed by an individual who enters an organization after general purpose education or experience in another organization. Malleability helps a person fit into different roles of an organization or acquire new skills to be integrated. As with metals, however, extreme malleability does not provide any strength to the person. The leader who mentors the malleable person also knows the extent to which he or she can be molded without losing the basic characteristics of the person.
Osmosis is the gradual passing of a liquid through a membrane as a result of which desired levels of dissolved substances or particulates are held back at or moved across the membrane. In a people perspective, it reflects the gradual process of learning or being influenced by someone, as a result of close contact. Osmosis is a key aspect of organizational learning. An experienced leader acts as an effective membrane which lets only the noble characteristics of an individual pass into the organization. An individual who comes in with multiple experiences, some virtuous and some toxic, is rendered virtually toxin-free with well designed induction and learning programs at the hands of experienced leaders that act as osmotic programs of organizational purity and efficacy. The Japanese system of Sempai-Kohai is a great example of virtuous organizational osmosis, and needs to be adapted.
A eutectic system is a mixture of chemical compounds or elements that has a single chemical composition that solidifies at a lower temperature than any other composition. This composition is known as the eutectic composition and the temperature is known as the eutectic temperature. On a phase diagram the intersection of the eutectic temperature and the eutectic composition gives the eutectic point. An organization is also a eutectic system wherein persons of diverse backgrounds are brought together to form a single union. An ability to understand the characteristics of different people and the conditions under which teams can effectively coalesce is a prime requirement of organization designers and organizational leadership. At an individual level, different educational and experiential perspectives can be amalgamated into a solid personality when the individual is treated as a eutectic system.
A semiconductor is a solid substance that conducts electricity under certain conditions. Semiconductor chips as we know constitute the core of electronics and digital revolution. A semiconductor is neither insular nor conductor, and is itself a eutectic system. A mature executive in an organization is also like a semiconductor, letting the right amount of data, information and cultural inputs pass through him or her. He or she is also verily the chip which provides the processing power to the organization and also becomes the storehouse of institutionalized knowledge. Individuals and organizations would, however, do well to remember that just as continuous upgrades in chips (dual core, quad core) enhance processing power, the individual capabilities need to be continuously upgraded to enable progressively higher business competitiveness.
Impedance defines and measures the resistance of a component or system to the flow of current. All individuals, teams and organizations unfortunately suffer from a level of impedance. Just as electrical impedance varies between different types of circuits (series and parallel) and has real and imaginary components (resistance and reactance), organizational impedance also varies by the design of organizational structures, the positioning and repositioning of cross-functional teams, the conductors used (the individuals deployed) and the leadership power that serves as the organizational motive power. Clearly, in the delivery of organizational goals and conduct of organizational processes, appropriate design of organizational circuitry is mandated.
Enthalpy is a measure of the total energy of a thermodynamic system. It includes the internal energy, which is the energy required to create a system, and the amount of energy required to make room for it by displacing its environment and establishing its volume and pressure. An organization is truly a thermodynamic system that is driven by heat energy and works in the environment with competitive output. The energy of an organization is akin to the enthalpy of a thermodynamic system. The greater the enthalpy in an organization the greater will be the organizational effectiveness. Like enthalpy in thermodynamic systems, organizational enthalpy needs to be measured by the change in energy level. The greater the change in organizational enthalpy the greater will be its competitive advantage. Individuals need to increased levels of enthalpy to contribute to greater organizational enthalpy.
Entropy is the energy that is available in the system but cannot do work. Entropy in statistical mechanics is a measure of the number of specific ways in which a system may be arranged, often taken to be a measure of "disorder"; the higher the entropy, the higher the disorder. The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium—the state of maximum entropy. The concept of entropy has valuable reference as organizations become larger in scale. Builders of organizations need to find out ways to minimize disorder in organizations as they grow larger in scale and how the organizations have higher enthalpy and lower entropy. Individuals do need to remember that as organizations become larger, the focus on individuals reduces, in the process increasing both disorder and entropy levels. Individuals and organizations need to minimize entropy as much as they need to maximize enthalpy.
Organization as a powerhouse
Organizations are manmade. Given that they are at one level structural designs and at another level they are human, they act as thermodynamic systems at one level and at another level do think, behave and act as human beings. The key concept is that elements of science and engineering apply to organizations and individuals as much as they do to physical systems and their components. Organization designers and business leaders must devise approaches to maximize the productive energy of their organizations, and the people therein, as thermodynamic systems. Viewing organizations and the personality traits of teams through a technical lens, as discussed in this blog, provides a novel framework for sustainable organizational energy.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on April 21, 2013