Theatre in Wales

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Stick to the Knitting

Summing It Up

The Beneficiary Doctrine , the Culture of Wales , February 23, 2020
Summing It Up by The Beneficiary Doctrine Books about organisations once upon a time used to belong to a dusty category termed Operational Research. In 1982 that changed. It was the year that Tom Peters and Robert H Waterman published “In Search of Excellence.” It was a best-seller and launched a whole new category in publishing. The avalanche over the next four decades has been vast, the vast majority glib and shallow. Nonetheless there are nuggets to be found among the ore. But the few good ones require some digging.

Peters and Waterman headed one of their chapters “Stick to Your Knitting.” It was a reaction to the school of thought promulgated by Harold Geneen, who took the conglomerate at its time its ultimate expression. The Peters and Waterman theme by contrast was concentration . The writer John Argenti elaborated it in a wider dimension in his book in 1993 “Your Organisation: What is it for?” It has much wisdom in it and ought to be better known than it is.

The synopsis from the publisher Routledge runs:

“This book, first published in 1993, challenges the accepted and practised methods organizations use to set standards of performance and quantify their achievements. Using in-depth case studies, John Argenti compares the performance of companies with that of non-profit making organizations to reveal remarkable insights into corporate culture. He notes how companies meticulously evaluate their performance, yet behave poorly in society while, in stark contrast, these actions are reversed in non-profit making organizations.”

As Wales' economic profile is around 70% state and the non-profit sector Argenti has a particular pertinence.

The hazards that mitigate the flourishing of organisations are legion. One is a failure, or a disinclination, to sample the results of their actions with a sufficient richness and variety. A second factor paradoxically is zeal. Organisations decline, ironically, by intensifying the first principles that powered their success. They are as subject as any to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In response to trouble they tend to generate complicatedness rather than complexity; the two are wholly different. Organisations exist within an ecology. When internal complexity fails to mirror external complexity they judder; and worse.

The symptoms of failure are few. One is the elevation of secondary purposes when the primary purpose is not being accomplished. John Argenti is a bracing corrective.

From the McGraw-Hill edition, Maidenhead 1993:

Page 29: Every organization should set out to benefit one group of beneficiaries and a single long term verifiable target figure should be applied to reflect what it is trying to do for them.

Page 34: Organisations are artifices, teleological, formed to benefit certain people, specific and nameable.

Page 36: An organisation is a group of people acting together to generate a satisfactory benefit for its intended beneficiaries.

Page 50: No organisation should serve more than one set of homogeneous set of intended beneficiaries- that is, the person or persons for whose benefit the organisation was originally formed or for whom it now exists should be unequivocally defined and limited to one set, class or category of people

No organisation should include any incidental beneficiary, or stakeholder, or interest group among its intended beneficiaries.

The more unambiguous and consistently its intended beneficiaries are identified the more effective an organisation is likely to be seen to be.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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