About Trust and Imposture

4th January 2019

Dear Christian,

The opportunity of working together again, after many years, made me feel a great joy especially because this time the subject of our common approach was an organisational transformation. A transformation meant to place your company, otherwise stable and solid, on the right market position. Taking into consideration that your company is a product based company, with consistent and innovative intellectual property, deserves, in my opinion, a much stronger position on the market. I don’t see any reason why this should not be possible. And here I feel the need to mention one aspect, in fact the most important – all this discussion took place with the perspective of assuring organisational sustainability.

I want also to thank you for the constant support to write down this experience as well as our numerous and savoury discussions so that the results should be used as a starting point in the analysis of organisational performance, or as an approach to start organisational change by all those in decision making positions that might be inspired by these writings.

All the situations that we have encountered on the path of this initiative for change confirmed, once again, an older hypothesis. It is about the rise of imposture within an organisation. Bearing in mind the circumstances in which this process took place, I believe, the concept has not a pejorative meaning. At least not in the beginning; in this phase, the imposture could be very well a result of conjuncture and not intention.

Let’s take for example the case of a technology outsourcing company, a term also known as lohn or body leasing or labour force leasing. Naturally, for me as well as for you, the IT domain is the most familiar, due to more than 30 years of professional experience (software development, IT systems and solutions development, project management, consultancy in implementing integrated systems, change management)… But you already know these things.

In this case, the business model presumes that the activities that have high added value and generate intellectual property are those run by the client. The results of these activities reach the provider in the form of a solution, business analyzes, functional architecture, technical architecture, development specifications. The level of activities requested from the provider is development – the lowest in terms of value, including its financial component, but also the most convenient. It only requires technical knowledge applied to the environment where the solution is expected to perform. As a result, the recruitment process is focused on identifying and retaining developers with the best competencies related to a specific technology required by clients. A team working for a specific client needs a kind of guidance and so the “team lead” role appears into the equation. Obviously, this role will be taken by the team member with the most solid technological background and competencies, a person with a trusted profile (for good reasons) by the management. This is the place where the fracture appears. The client sees this person as team leader and not as the team’s technical guide. The client vision is, in most of the cases, adopted by the provider itself. And suddenly the technical position of the “team lead” ceases, and becomes a managerial one. But this new position is defined by skills and competencies developed under a totally different type of knowledge. Implicitly, the management transfers the technical trust (proved and owned) to managerial trust (unproved and totally un-owned).

We are in the very moment when imposture may occur. If we are closely following the recruitment process, it is very unlikely, although not impossible, that a team lead recruited for technical knowledge to be a good team leader – his/her passion and long-time investment being in the field of technical knowledge, not managerial one. With the very rare exceptions in which technical competencies are doubled by managerial skills, the solution would logically imply to refuse such a role. But in the beginning, as it is understood by all the parties involved – team leads, managers etc. – the position doesn’t seem to be very hard to fill. And indeed, it is not in the very first moments. And so, implicitly, the imposture is accepted. Another way out is acknowledge the situation, followed by a decision to acquire the needed skills within a certain timeframe.

The symptoms become visible when a hard, complex decision has to be made. Because this is the area where the impact is the highest. Let’s not forget that for sustainability the decision-making processes are the most important ones in any organisation (or community). And the team lead finds himself without the necessary skills to make such decision. What is the team leader going to do? Most likely they will have a very hard time accepting and recognising that they are not capable to make a decision within the limits of his/her competencies. If it is not appropriate, the team leader will have to justify it, to defend it in front of colleagues and management. If their argumentative talent helps, a competency that often can be found with people with excellent technical skills, we are already in the situation of self-accepted imposture – the team leader occupies a position that he/she is not qualified for. Is it therefore still the case to expect quality delivery on long term (which translates in sustainability) when the decisions are made this way?

Here we had an imposture situation induced by the client and accepted by team leader and the management. In the end, the recruitment process followed technical skills for a managerial position.

Let us think of a company developed by an entrepreneur with no prior knowledge regarding organisational management which has found the correct market niche. The organisation is facing the market pressure and a rhythm of accelerated growth. Whom the entrepreneur will trust to take over the decision-making positions? The experience reveals that in most cases they entrust relatives and close friends – people that are familiar. Under the pace of growth there is no time to build up an organisation on more solid, methodological basis. Again, the decision making process falls victim to chance, if in this moment the entrepreneur is not making the move towards a business based organisational model. In this second case the recruitment process was made following obedience criteria, with no focus on managerial skills.

In both cases of imposture the organisational leader had to solve the issue of trust.

Naturally, organisations evolve, situations become more complex… It seems that “Peter’s Principle” is a synthetic and very accurate description of imposture cases, regardless of the way in which the process evolved. But about how a position like this could be kept and what is generating downstream, how it impacts an organization, in another letter.

Waiting with interest for your reply,

Alexandru

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