In the mid nineties I was teaching a course on innovation to 160 ESIEE 4th year students. Their assignment was to invent an innovation climate survey and to apply it to their immediate internship environment. I got hundreds of faxes from all over France and Europe. The results were fascinating. Some highly prestigious and renowned companies had (according to the students) miserably useless innovation climates. I remember thinking then that some CEOs would probably pay a fortune to get such candid information which classic run of the mill consultants would rarely be able to or dare to provide.
Last year Ilaria Zucconi came to from Policenico di Milano to ESIEE to do research on how organisations organise themselves. Quite a few of the ITMP 15 students got interested and involved in her work. Several ended up doing their theses on related topics. (Ilaria by the way passed hers in Milano with excellent marks last December!). So Pascal’s innovation diagnosis tool I mentioned last week, or Saad’s work on organisational change.
This Thursday Mike and I were introduced by Svetlana, another ITMP15 student, to the fascinating world of Silence in Organizations. In other words, to put it crudely, why don’t the CEOs of those companies that have really miserable and hopeless innovation climates know about it? Why do the top echelons only know 5% of what’s really going on below?
Part of the answer is the employees’ silence. They of course « know » everything. But if they refuse to « speak », that is of little use to the organisation.
But why be silent? What forms does silence take? What are the variants on silence? What are the opposites?
Svetlana took Mike and myself through a number of key writings which answer these questions. Starting with Hirschman on Exit, Voice and Loyalty we followed a very fascinating trail which she had discovered and painstakingly charted in the past few months.
My hot topic and obsession last year was liberated organisations. Now I realise this was the bright side of the moon. The organisations where there is « voice ». In all the cases of liberated enterprises presented in Getz’ excellent book « voice » was a critical ingredient. Those organisations where there is silence are like the dark side of the moon.
In her conclusions Svetlana outlined ideas for getting those moons to rotate. I very much look forward to reading and sharing the final, public version of her work later this spring.