The Future of HR, part 18: Creating the Fontainebleau forest in spring…

The machine as the popular metaphor for an organisation

Our company is getting bigger. To realise our ambitious goals we need clear focus in the strategy, more transparency and an effective structure. The language used around this, is often dominated by language coming from the Machine and Army metaphors of the organisation. “Smooth running”, “Alignment”, “The right to win”, “Avoiding redundancy”, “Informing the troops”, “Putting oil in the machine”, “Clear marching orders for everyone” and so on.

The smell of the place

Last weekend, via @davidhain, I came across a short speech of Sumantra Ghoshal at the World Economic Forum on YouTube,  “The Smell of the Place”. The video is at least 10 years old.  I experienced it as a very stimulating lecture. The theme is change management. How can you change your organisation by changing the context you create around your people? What is “the smell of your place”?  Ghoshal describes how he feels and behaves differently when he is in Calcutta in the summer (very hot and humid), and when he is in the Fontainebleau forest in the spring. His question: how can you create the forest of Fontainebleau in your organisation? He describes the smell in larger organisations that talk about constraints, compliance, control and contracts. He makes a plea for a shift.

  • No constraints, but stretch
  • Not compliance but self-discipline
  • No control but support
  • No contracts, but trust

I mailed the link to the video around to several people, and got very positive responses, which was encouraging. People like the message of Ghoshal. Again, a dilemma to reconcile. Can you create a clear focus in your strategy, more transparency and an effective strategy and make your organisation smell like the Forest of Fontainebleau in spring? Can we shift the metaphors from machine and army to forest?

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