Today, ReSolutions celebrates the
250th issue of ReSolutions Weekly.
On this occasion, Ibrahima Fall honors us with three interviews.
The 1st interview is the subject of this 250th issue.
It will be extended by two other interviews to be published,
in mid-June and early September.
These three interviews shed light
on Ibrahima Fall‘s work and interventions, as described in his recent book:
« The company against the knowledge of real work? »
with the subtitle:
« People first or the syndrome of the sacrificed first »
They will allow the reader of ReSolutions Weekly to address :
- 1st interview: the reality of work, the great absentee of the company and
- 2nd interview: the centrality of work and the empowering enterprise
- 3rd interview: CSR and the political role of the company in its ecosystem
- 1st interview: the reality of work, the great absentee of the company and
This third interview will also offer a synthesis of the 10 major ideas that Ibrahima Fall wishes to offer to the readers of ReSolutions Weekly, as well as some references to inspiring authors and thinkers on these themes.
Many thanks to Ibrahima Fall for sharing with us his thoughts, convictions and potential evolutions for a company where people will no longer be « the first to be sacrificed ».
Ibrahima Fall holds a doctorate in management science from the École des Mines de Paris, which he obtained with unanimous congratulations from the jury. He is the founding President of Hommes & Décisions, a management consulting firm, and a former Director at Eurogroup Consulting.
His missions focus on the transformation of organizations through the reality of work.
The reality of work,
the great company’s and management’s absentee
1. The escape and denial of reality in companies
2. Multiple causes
3. Consequences that are less and less accepted and acceptable
4. Access to reality, its difficulties and means
– The complex and the system
– A necessary change of vision
– The obstacles to these evolutions and the ways to overcome them.
(Note: the bolded text is the work of ReSolutions)
1. The escape and denial of reality (of work) in companies.
You denounce the lack of consideration of real work in companies. This observation may be surprising. If there is one concern to be addressed in a company, it is the concern of the work that supports its offer. Can you illustrate what this failure to take into account and this denial of reality by the company and its management consists of?
Contrary to appearances, even if managers and leaders often claim to be pragmatic, realistic, etc., the fact remains that the relationship of companies and organizations in general with reality is problematic. Management is the proof. I am talking about « institutional » or « institutionalized » management, which has been designed without really thinking about the complexity of work. Work is at the confluence of three worlds: the objective world, the social world and the subjective world. The first management thinkers (Taylor in the United States and Fayol in France) were engineers, and therefore more at ease in the objective world than in the other worlds. The consequence of this was a fertile but sterile knowledge that often denies reality, with an implicit postulate: to know is to be able to do and undo; to succeed is to understand; reality is what is repeated and « exit » everything that is not repeated, i.e. the essentials of life. The denial of reality is to want to rationalize life by being in exclusive search of univocity and repeatability. I am not sure that this is effective in time and space.
You denounce this denial of reality in the field of work. Does this denial of reality also apply more broadly to other areas of the company?
The denial of reality in the field of work is, it seems to me, the link between all other denials. In particular, we can cite these limiting beliefs that do not encourage the essential trade with reality: organization is structures, the quality of work is an objective notion, procedure is more effective than trust, the supposed existence of causal links between skills (soft or hard) and performance, change is transformation… All these beliefs stem from a lack of understanding of what Man at work is. There is therefore a price to pay: solving a « problem » often means creating halos of disorganization that will have to be dealt with and so on.
2. Multiple and complex causes
In your book, you identify multiple causes for this denial. Some of them are surprising, but they all converge, if we follow you, on a common cause, which is fear and the immediate shielding of oneself from it, which is the absence of trust. Can you remind us of these different causes and the fear to which they lead?
Reality is often cruel and often does not go our way, and as Clément Rosset says, « reality is generally admitted only under certain conditions and only up to a certain point: if it abuses and proves unpleasant, tolerance is suspended. A stop of perception then puts the conscience at the shelter of any undesirable spectacle « . If, however, the real insists, says Clément Rosset, and « if it absolutely wants to be perceived, the real can always go and see itself elsewhere« .
In many organizations, in the private sector as well as in the public sector, reality is not only denied, it is often refused. The consequences are fundamental and considerable as to the capacity of regeneration of these organizations and their capacity to preserve the health of the workers and thus their power to act. This refusal of reality is based on our refusal of uncertainty and our desire for control. As Henri Maldiney said, the real is not possible at first, so any attempt at total control is doomed to failure, but this does not prevent us from thinking the opposite and equipping ourselves with tools of all kinds, even to the point of absurdity: multi-year planning, risk control systems… These systems often only give a feeling of control. Moreover, what risk management systems in companies had been designed to counter the consequences of Covid (parts of the economy stopped, borders closed, etc.)? The real world often resisted these measures, so it was necessary to improvise, test, make mistakes and rectify.
What is the nature of this fear that must be fought? Surprisingly, we discover that it affects managers as much as employees, but in very different ways. Why, when everyone is afraid, is this fear not pointed out and treated as the subject of current management?
The fear of uncertainty creates a desire for control that is found throughout the organization. Let’s take the example of subsidiarity. Everyone thinks it’s an excellent thing, but few companies really implement it because it requires the entire hierarchy to give up some of its power of control, to trust, and therefore to give up some of its desire to control. Another example is silos. There are few companies in which silos do not exist, everyone deplores them but it is difficult to overcome them for one simple reason: silos seem to be the normal functioning of any woman or man. Working in silos means working autonomously, not depending (too much) on others, which seems to me to be quite normal for any human being. To fight against silos, that is to say the desire to control to the point of absurdity all dependence, is to implement the conditions of a cooperation that responds on transparency and trust.
3. Consequences less and less accepted and acceptable
Fear and denial of reality are never good advisors. In terms of management and therefore of the company’s « performance », their damage is real. What are the concrete consequences for the company and why have they been denied for so long?
The consequences are twofold:
On the one hand, denying the complexity of work and the centrality of the quality of work means forging conditions that do not allow workers to recognize themselves in what they do, which is not a guarantee of sustainable performance.
On the other hand, it means ignoring the quality of work (the famous instinct of a job well done, as Veblen spoke of), and ignoring a fundamental resource at the service of companies in order to face the challenges of our time: environmental, social, technological… In fact, in the company, the social body is the first witness, but also the first vector of any desire to have a positive impact on its ecosystem. It is more and more inconceivable for public opinion that a company communicating on its social and societal impact accumulates bad managerial practices, factors of tensions and disengagement without even mentioning the consequences of such practices on long-term performance.
Do you think that your observation is shared today by entrepreneurs? By managers? By teams? And by all these actors?
Companies are sometimes victims of what I call « conceptual sleep merchants », certain consultants and other linguistic innovators.
They market the « obligatory convictions of the moment », i.e. managerial fashions and other ready-made ideas. Thus, instead of focusing on the real issues (how to move from collective work to work collectives, how to create an enabling environment, etc.), many companies remain, in the best of cases, on the scum of the earth, as is the case at the moment: soft skills, quiet quitting …. What we don’t understand, doesn’t exist for the mind. We need to relearn how to think about work and the fundamentals that go with it.
4. Access to reality, its difficulties and means
The complex and the system
In your book, you denounce the collapse of questioning in companies and make it one of the causes of the refusal of reality and a passport for the « straddlers of reality ».
Isn’t this a call on your part to recognize and accept the complexity of reality? The reality of work, as well as of the company, is complex and must be problematized by grasping the system in which it is, at the same time, acted upon and actor. While you advocate the simplicity of organizations, it is indeed to a complex thought that you mobilize.
I humbly wish to participate in the rehabilitation of a word that has been reviled: theory!
The lack of judgment in an organization or in life itself is often linked to a lack of sensitivity to reality. Sensitivity to reality depends at least in part on our capacity to understand and therefore to theorize. The sensitivity is also a result of what Paul Valéry calls the implex, that is to say all that comes to the conscience without having been called: emotions, memories, images…
This is why, without theory, understanding practice and making it sustainable becomes difficult, if not impossible, and practicing without theory means investing inexorably in disappointment. Fighting against blindness to reality means investing in theory, because we do not suffer from too much theory but from a lack of theory to understand and accompany the transformations of a company that has become central to our civilization. If managing means working with diversity (diverse realities moving in opposite directions), diversity has never been so complex: short-term efficiency vs. sustainability, citizen vs. consumer, heart vs. reason, intuition vs. thought, preservation of the environment vs. growth, etc. No recipe has a grip on such complexity and no discipline alone can penetrate it.
You also insist on the company’s appetite for solutions and denounce an education system that pushes to find solutions to a problem whereas intelligence is, remember, in the ability to problematize.
How can we motivate entrepreneurs, managers and employees to break away from this cultural formatting and what results are sufficiently motivating for this evolution to succeed?
First of all, we need to explain what a solution is and why we cannot talk about a « solution » when it comes to management.
A solution can only exist for a mathematical or technical problem, i.e., in a company, everything that has to do with formal representations (organization chart, processes, procedures, tools, etc.). From then on, when it comes to the organization as a human and social dynamic, we are no longer in a technical relationship but in an organic or even political relationship (« not losing the sense of the whole »). It is no longer a question of conceiving and implementing solutions but of instituting and putting into dialogue a set of conditions that can lead to the emergence of arrangements, which do not have the irreversible force of the obvious and which often require a review if the initial conditions change. This is one of the reasons why transformations cannot be decreed. Transforming is not solving a problem. The institutionalization of transformation through « transformation managers » suffers from this original pitfall. This institutionalization leads them mechanically to the search for solutions in project management mode, to the detriment of organic work on the conditions of possibility for a true transformation of operating modes.
Few entrepreneurs have heard the saying attributed to Albert Einstein, which goes: « If I have one hour to solve a problem on which my life depends, I spend 55 minutes studying the problem and the last 5 minutes finding a solution.
How do you make the entrepreneur aware of the advantages of spending time to identify the real problem in order to find a « feasible » solution?
I try to make them understand that it is better to lose time in the short term in order to gain time in the medium and long term because reality resists words and never takes anyone by surprise. We have never talked so much about transformation, but we often ignore one of the conditions that make it happen: in order to transform, we need to understand and to understand, we need time. Understanding what is at stake in the organization, i.e. the human dynamics, the constraints and resources of the stakeholders, the strategies of the actors, is a necessary condition for establishing the conditions for success of any transformation, in this case the appropriate enabling environment. Unfortunately, we have a skewed relationship with time (« we have to go fast » is a management philosophy shared by many companies) with this logic « if we don’t do it, others will »; in this regard, you may recall the humorous phrase of Georges Besse, former head of Renault: « If we don’t do it, others will. That’s the kind of thinking that gets you into bed with your sister. This formula is an ode to reflection! Nevertheless, as Jean-François Lyotard had well seen, « In a universe where success is to gain time, thinking has only one flaw, but incorrigible: to make people lose time« . Learning to lose a little time in order to succeed in a transformation is what being pragmatic is all about.
To sum up, what are the main avenues of evolution that you believe should be favored to bring reality into the company and what are the main advances to be expected for the company, its employees and its customers, not to mention the social and societal advances that we will discuss in our third interview?
I give some food for thought in the book, in particular these two transformations that seem fundamental to me:
- The need for a reform of management education based on what I call a micrology of managerial facts, i.e., to provide students or trainees with the ability to analyze the constituent details of managerial facts in work situations. These details contribute, on the one hand, to the meaning that actors can give to work situations and, on the other hand, shape the impacts and types of impact of actions on all stakeholders, including the ecosystem as a whole. Such a micrology of managerial facts cannot be decreed; it must be based on an ordered pedagogical path that allows for
- A knowledge of the different theories of collective action: co-activity, collaboration, cooperation… For each of these forms of collective action, the objective will be to draw the contours, the stakes, the limits, the conditions of possibility and illustrate them with concrete examples.
- A knowledge of the stakes of language in collective action, of the logical analysis of propositions in the discourse, of the analysis of the activity to understand the practical intelligence at work and which escapes the prescriptions
- To think, to act and to maintain the collectives according to the meaning built through the different theories of collective action and the knowledge on language, on activity, on logic etc…
The micrology of managerial facts is thus a concrete application, as close to the field as possible, of the « diplomacy of disciplines » that I am calling for. It is therefore neither a « living room » diplomacy, i.e. a « Ferrero » diplomacy, nor the chimerical « hybridization of disciplines », which is a logical dead end.
- 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 Work Department. Thus, in addition to the administrative management (entries, exits…) and the formal management of social relations, the Labor Department would have two central prerogatives:
- To institute the subject and the work collective in place of the human resource by reexamining the support systems (recruitment, training, development…) and amending them in light of this repositioning.
- Helping to create the conditions that make cooperation possible and ensuring that it is effective in space and time: the TD must act as a watchdog to alert and prevent the risks of deterioration in the conditions of cooperation in all areas of the company. These risks can be organizational, structural, human (managerial practices) or related to the information system.
Nevertheless, let’s be clear, I don’t believe in the good old days, as you will have understood, nor in a brighter tomorrow simply because of the « intrinsic strength of true ideas », the power struggles will still be present. I simply believe in our capacity to make work, its management, the conditions of its deliberation, an instrument at the service of the personal development of workers and of performance. This requires an almost complete reorientation of the perspective that organizations give to work and collective action. The consequences will be fundamental on the way of thinking about the company, its trajectory, its different functions, its main risk management devices, the postures and expertise of the women and men who must accompany this transformation, etc…
Many thanks to you for sharing. We will meet again in mid-June for the second part of this interview. We will then discuss how work is (and should be) at the center of the management debate and how the company can and should evolve in its ennabling dimension.
Find here the links to
- Ibrahima Fall’s book
- as well as his numerous contributions on his site » Hommes & Décisions « .