Organizational & Managerial Wisdom
Wait. Can we put words like wisdom in the same sentence as organization and management without irony?
I believe we can. I believe wisdom is something that we can and must develop in our institutions.
How do we develop organizational wisdom? The literature highlights three themes of wisdom: values guide wise action; knowledge is required, but insufficient; wisdom is action-oriented, requiring acts of power. Focusing, therefore, on the constructs of values, rationality, and power, I applied a phronetic research approach, including a narrative analysis of texts and interviews, to an embedded, single case study of the development of the Seniors Program within a Canadian health authority. Phronetic research seeks to develop value-rationality and argues that wisdom is doing the ethically practical in a social context. Thus, I used the values of the Canada Health Act as a litmus for wise action and assessed whether individuals acted consistently with those values and, if not, why.
Results demonstrated that values guided episodic uses of power. Values interacted in complex ways, and even when different stakeholders shared prime values, differences in instrumental values and operating timeframes led to resistance. Groups exercised power and made appeals to areas where values overlapped to overcome resistance. Program developers used rationality to determine how the program would operate. Different stakeholder groups, however, relied on different forms of rationality, and the rationalities that dominated were the ones supported by prevailing power structures. Groups that blended different rationalities discovered that bringing multiple rationalities into dialogue resulted in creative problem-solving. Rationality was also the means through which individuals reified power. It gave the means and structure that translated will into action.
This study demonstrated that organizational wisdom required individuals capable of managing the complex interplay of values, rationality, and power within their organization. These individuals were led by values that aligned with the organization’s, possessed keen insight into the values different stakeholder groups pursued, and negotiated differences to build supportive power networks. They understood the rationalities that dominated in their organization yet recognized that other stakeholders relied on different rationalities. They respected these differences and sought to blend rationalities to solve problems. Finally, these individuals understood how power worked in their organization. They knew how to make things happen in their environment, and they exercised their power to create action.