On the occasion of the 250th issue of ReSolutions Weekly,
Ibrahima Fall, Doctor of Management Sciences,
and Founding President of « Hommes & Decisions »,
did us the honor and the friendship of sharing 3 interviews
with ReSolutions .
His second interview is the subject of this issue of
It will continue with the third interview to be published
at the beginning of next September.
These three interviews shed light on the work and interventions of Doctor Ibrahima Fall, which is reported in his very recent book:
“ The company against the knowledge of real work? with the subtitle: « Human first » or the syndrome of the sacrificed first
They will allow the reader of ReSolutions Weekly to approach:
- 1st interview : the reality of work, absent from the company and management
- 2nd interview : the centrality of work and the empowering company
- 3rd interview : CSR and the political role of the company in its ecosystem
A big thank you to Ibrahima Fall for giving us his thoughts, his convictions and his paths of evolution towards a company where the human being will no longer be the first to be sacrificed.
The centrality of work
and the enabling company
1. The central question of work
2. The « Simone’s Gap » (Weil)
3. Work with confidence
4. The empowering company
(Note: bolding is done by ReSolutions)
1. The central question of work
The relationship to work is today in full evolution and work is a concept which is today strongly questioned. However, I am struck that, if today many talk about “the relationship to work”, in the end few, if not very few, talk about work itself.
Do you share this observation and if so how do you explain it?
No wonder people talk about everything but work . Aside from those who have taken specialized courses (ergonomics, psychology, sociology of work, etc.), few people have taken courses on work in their original training. Work is not taught in business schools, engineering schools or university management courses . When people talk about work, they often talk about « production » or everything that surrounds work, especially when it comes to quality of life at work (QVT). The President of the Republic, for example, wants a new pact on work. I bet that this pact, if it is designed, will be anything but a pact on work because the latter does not allow itself to be seized by prescriptions even with the force of the law. If there must be a work pact, it will be done within each company. Each company is specific and work situations are not alike within the same company.
You put the work in the center. So much so that you propose the creation, in the company, of a Labor Department instead of the HRD as well as the creation of a “managementist” position .
Can you specify its vocation and the advantages likely to win the support of business leaders?
I think there is an alternative between a HRM phagocytosed by the administration and a HRM strongly driven towards a role of « politician » by a business partner approach which means that, as Karl Kraus said, it is no longer the goal which commands haste but haste which commands the goal . This is why I propose to place work and care for it at the heart of the performance of companies and organizations in general by moving from a Human Resources Department to a Labor Department (DT). We talked about it in the previous interview.
I believe in our ability to make work, its management, the conditions of its deliberation, an instrument at the service of the personal development of workers and performance . This requires an almost complete reorientation of the perspective that organizations give to work and collective action.
While waiting for such a transformation, I propose to institute a role of managementist within organizations. Its objective is to help anchor the company’s management systems in reality, by ensuring their cooperative character and their sustainability in time and space.His role is not to be confused with the role of manager. He is the guarantor of social receptivity and with this in mind, he mobilizes and makes available all the means necessary to create the conditions for the possibility of cooperation .
It is a function which will make it possible to break with an anomaly: in any large company (bank, industry, etc.), there is a chief economist but never a “head of management in chief”, the managementist will finally play this role. He will be the guardian of the spirit of the social body and the guarantor of what makes a relationship between men, of what is objective neither in a tool, nor in calculation nor in a formula: it is the social cement implicit, the « soul » of us.
2. The « Simone’s Gap » (Weil)
You cite with pleasure and apropos the philosopher Simone Weil. You insist in particular on one of his formulas which you call: « Simone’s gap »: » We are very badly placed at the top to realize and at the bottom to act «
This formula seems to us to be at the heart of your thinking. It integrates, in its beautiful conciseness, all the components of the subject: the difficulty of taking reality into account, from above and the difficulty of acting from below (notably due to lack of autonomy). This formula points, among other things, to the essential and difficult position of middle management, which precisely makes the link between the top and the bottom.
The Simone’s gap is fundamental for me because we are always turning around and part of the difficulties for companies to reform is due to this . In an unstable world, bureaucracy with a concentration of all powers at the top of the hierarchical pyramid is antithetical to efficiency.
Today, to think that the remote guidance of women and men (I speak of « remote guidance », a word that managerial phraseology has caused to fall into disuse and which nevertheless accurately describes a reality) by managers who are omniscient, omnipresent to produce sustainable performance, is a figment of the imagination. In a changing environment, it is even more necessary to decentralize decisions and promote collective decisions : the famous subsidiarity that everyone talks about but no one sees .
On this question of subsidiarity, we are going a long way in France. Moreover, those who imported the word “management” into France in the 1960s, in particular business leaders and thinkers like Octave Gélinier, were already pointing out the difficulty in a centralizing country like ours of decentralizing decisions . Louis XIV-style management is present in all our institutions, and both private and public companies are no exception.
This is what Andrew Shonfield, former director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, said about it in his great work « Le capitalisme d’actualité » published in 1965: » The French point of view, which is very much prior to the revolution of 1789, is essentially that the effective management of the economic life of a nation must depend on the concentration of power in the hands of a small number of exceptionally gifted persons who possess a capacity for foresight and a judgment which escape the average lucky entrepreneurs . The long-term forecast and experience used systematically by those in power are the intellectual foundations of the system. The strength and efficiency of the machinery of government thus determine the degree of success practically achieved.« .
His words have not aged and expresses in a historical canvas the French managerial evil and this gap of Simone that we have great difficulty in filling even when a real desire for transformation exists.
How to reduce this gap as one would a fracture?
Contrary to the Pavlovian reflex in organizations, there is no technical tool or protocol that allows this gap to be reduced . This gap is the consequence of a fragmentation or an indifference to the conjunction of the different worlds (objective world, social world, subjective world) in which all work is expressed.
Often, this indifference is one of the consequences of abstraction and formalism, known enemies of the concrete and of existence .
Such a gap can therefore only be filled (although still imperfectly) through vertical and horizontal cooperation. It’s not an easy thing because cooperation cannot be decreed, but we can just implement the conditions that can allow it. It is the product of an enabling environment.
3. Work with confidence
You denounce “ the infantilization of individuals despite the pious wishes of empowerment of employees resulting from new theories of management. « . You make this infantilization “ a technique of power of power ”. What are the main aspects of this infantilization? And what are the reasons, not to say their justifications?
The infantilization of employees is not a deliberate fact, orchestrated by those who manage and/or hold power, but it is the result of the stacking of mechanisms and postures: the quantity changes the quality and the fiction of the resources humans do the rest.
This infantilization is built on the myth of « effective » action which would be based on the grid of the experience and the field of possibilities of the collaborator in such a way as to leave little room for autonomy in behavior, in the decision , in the choices structuring their relationship to work and therefore to others.
This grid is exercised through three types of devices identified by Marie-Anne Dujarier: « purpose » devices that define what must be achieved through work (number of products to be manufactured, number of files to be processed, etc.) ; “procedure” systems that define the processes and procedures to be followed; enrollment devices that include messages and speeches to accompany the first two devices in order to make them desired and accepted by employees. We can say with Giorgio Agamben, that the collaborator thus “supported” is a “being who constantly obeys in the very gesture by which he gives a command”.
This de facto infantilization is one of the causes of malaise at work and the disengagement of employees. Indeed, infantilization dispossesses employees of themselves and maintains them in a neotenic stage completely out of step with their status and their role as citizens or responsible parents in the city, that is to say everywhere else. This remains a strangeness even on the legal level . Indeed, even if the employees accept a relationship of subordination by the employment contract,Article L 1121-1 of the Labor Code stipulates that “No one may place restrictions on the rights of persons and individual and collective freedoms that are not justified by the nature of the task to be performed or proportionate to the aim sought”.
Caught between the boss who thinks his role is to decide everything, the procedures whose quantity robs you of your power to act, the individual interviews, often a kind of reminiscence of elementary school, you would have to be a hero to give the best of yourself and preserve your mental health. It must be obvious that this infantilization is in contradiction with decades of intellectual productions on truly human work in the social sciences.
By denouncing this infantilization, you will not please HRDs and managers, de facto instruments of this infantilization. Do they now have the means and the will to put an end to this infantilization?
Putting an end to this infantilization first requires a cultural and therefore intellectual revolution before thinking about the techniques and methods to be implemented.
This notably involves knowledge , lifting the veil on the “behind consequences” which, even if they are not wanted, remain a reality. Such an awareness can make it possible to think of collective action differently. However, we will come up against the specificities of a certain conception of the exercise of power in France, as we said above. There will be no miracle recipes, it will take a lot of courage and tact for all the parties involved in collective action to realize that a worker, in the context of his work, does not need a surrogate mum or dad but with an empowering environment allowing him to participate wisely in a collective work.
To infantilize is to distrust and instill fear. For you, trust is THE way to truly put » people first » and to ensure that people are no longer the first to be sacrificed? In what and how trust in business and in work should and can be at the heart of activity and functioning?
Not infantilizing is accepting to trust . Confidence in an organization is not an automatic feeling, it cannot be decreed. Moreover, it is not just a marketing slogan because it has a certain operational interest .
Indeed, by schematizing, we can say that there are two rational ways of making a decision: on subjects which require calculation, it is not very complicated but on all the other subjects, it is necessary what Bertrand Russel calls the » argumentative competition » in order to discard together the bad hypotheses with regard to the real.
Indeed, the complexity of the work which is at the confluence of the objective world, the subjective world and the social world means that the truth of the work situations is neither held by an expert, a professional alone nor by a manager. It is built through and putting into perspective objective data, points of view, cross-views on the work to be done or in the process of being done. So a method is needed and the argumentative competition is this method.
The latter is only possible if you trust the teams, particularly in their ability to instruct the structuring subjects for the smooth running of the organization.
4. The enabling enterprise
In response to the complexity of disabling and infantilizing procedures, you call for the simplicity of organizational structures and the empowerment of teams by limiting prescriptions.
What are the attributes of such an enabling environment?
An enabling environment , moreover we could speak of a working environment, is an environment in which everyone decides at the right level because organizational pleonexia (the fact of thinking oneself more essential than one should and, therefore, believing oneself legitimate to decide for others, even to regulate their life at work) is strongly fought against.
It’s not co-management, it’s cohabitation between equals in intelligence and dignity . Such a working environment allows everyone to put their paw to the common work and to develop as an individual in interaction with a collective having defined and respected rules of work and life. Thus, the individual is neither isolated nor engulfed by the collective, each one intervenes in his place without losing sight of the finalities of the work.
Such an environment is not designed once and for all, it lives according to the contingencies of reality which questions practices, expertise and rules of life. Therefore, the reflex is not to automatically design procedures and new formal rules as soon as a class of problems emerges, but to trust the work groups thanks to « capacitating prescriptions » which allow express the teams’ power to act.
What tangible advantages should be put forward to bring about the conviction and action of entrepreneurs to embark on this transformation?
Ibrahima Fall :
Implementing an enabling or working environment is not an option for those who want a sustainable and health-producing performance. It makes it possible to deal with the complexity of the environment of organizations by:
- Taking advantage of the experience and expertise of employees : it is not good management to hire people with good qualities and to remotely guide them from the top of the hierarchy
- Decentralizing decisions as close as possible to the field : difficult to grasp the reality of increasingly complex work from the top of the hierarchy
- Organizing argumentative competitions on key issues
- Ensuring that neither the individual nor the collective take precedence over the other
- Taking into account the specificities of each group (young, less young, elderly, people with disabilities, etc.)
- Breaking with the myth of the talented by decree or the haloed hero of “soft-skills”
At the same time, what difficulties and what brakes both management and employees must be overcome to make these changes a success.
As Octave Gélinier said , good management requires social, cultural and political infrastructures . The transformation of organizations will therefore be above all social, cultural and political before being technical.
We must relearn how to put complexity back where islands of simplistic people have made their bed. Thinking first of all about Man as a sensitive and social subject is a prerequisite . We must therefore relearn how to think , a faculty that managerial phraseology tends to amputate. This is why there will be no transformation of organizations without respect for language . Let’s take two words as an example: leadership and talent.
A leader by decree without knowledge of the real work can only base his leadership on the good feelings and therefore inevitably on the bad feelings when things do not go his way. The procedural legitimacy conferred on him by such a label can therefore very quickly turn into a weapon against his teams with mechanisms of violence (harassment, pressure, control, etc.) because for him, the important thing is the objective to be achieved, stewardship follows, whatever the price.
Regarding talent , any realistic person will understand that such a qualifier is above all a marketing slogan, but beware of those who take it seriously because talent is a myth, the individual production of wealth a chimera. This is why the talented by decree can very quickly fall into the trap of hubris . This hubris is often the breeding ground for unfair behavior always tinged with violence in teams.
Karl Kraus was right, speaking is thinking. As long as we think badly, we will not be able to make a serious trade with the real and therefore transform organizations for good.
Thank you very much for sharing this. We will meet you at the beginning of September for the third part of this interview. We will then discuss in what and how the company must open up to its ecosystem and discuss its political role.
Find here the links to
- Ibrahima Fall’s book
- as well as his numerous contributions on his site “Men & Decisions” .