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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Karl Albrecht on Organizational Intelligence

Karl Albrecht has defined seven characteristic features of an intelligent organization, and has designed a self-assessment questionnaire for creating a profile of the intelligence of an organization.

1. Strategic Vision: do we know where we’re going?
2. Shared Fate: are we all in the same boat?
3. Appetite for Change: can we face the unexpected challenges?
4. Heart: do we have the spirit and energy to succeed?
5. Alignment and Congruence: do the organization’s “rules and tools” help us succeed?
6. Knowledge Deployment: do we share our information, knowledge, and wisdom?
7. Performance Pressure: are we serious about getting things done?

Some of his questions are useful, but I don't think they provide a rounded view of the intelligence of an organization.

1. By strategic vision, Albrecht is referring to the capacity to create, evolve, and express the purpose of the enterprise. This is certainly an important aspect of sense-making, but overlooks an equally important aspect of sense-making, which is to understand the evolving demands of the environment and to align vision and purpose to these demands. In Albrecht's model of organizational intelligence, there is no explicit connection between vision and reality, and no mention of the extent to which organizations (and their leaders) understand and anticipate the present and future.

2. A stupid organization can still have a sense of community, and a strong collective affiliation to an outdated or unrealistic vision, leading to a collective refusal to face facts.

3. An appetite for change is important, but profound change also requires a degree of patience and a willingness to tolerate uncertainty and inconsistency. Albrecht talks about discomfort, but many organizations try to avoid discomfort by rushing through changes as quickly as possible, often resulting in a series of failed initiatives.

4.  Heart. This may well be a consequence of organizational intelligence - an organization that values and engages the intelligence and creativity of its employees should end up with more satisfied and engaged and committed employees. But this is also strongly connected to trust.

5. Alignment and congruence. This is to do with the architecture of collaboration, which is perhaps the most difficult aspect of organizational intelligence. The most intelligent organizations typically don't display complete congruence, but manage with a degree of creative tension and conflict between different functions or positions.

6. Knowledge deployment. Albrecht concentrates on generating and sharing knowledge (flow of knowledge, conservation of sensitive information, the availability of information at key points of need) but I see the key capability for organizational intelligence in terms of linking knowledge to action. How has this knowledge helped us do things better, or to do better things?

7. Performance pressure - a preoccupation with the performance of the enterprise, in terms of the achievement of identified strategic objectives and tactical outcomes. This preoccupation is found in many bureaucratic organizations, especially those dominated by the so-called target culture which often militates against organizational intelligence. I therefore cannot see any necessary correlation between performance pressure and organizational intelligence.

A company like Enron would probably have scored fairly high on Albrecht's questionnaire, but it also provided a spectacular illustration of Albrecht's Law, namely that "intelligent people, when assembled into an organization, will tend toward collective stupidity".

Albrecht identifies two kinds of stupidity, which he calls the learned kind and the designed-in kind.
  • The learned kind prevails when people are not authorized to think, or don't believe they are.
  • The designed-in kind prevails when the rules and systems make it difficult or impossible for people to think creatively, constructively, or independently.
I believe there is a third kind of stupidity, which I call the disconnected kind. This is where there are many talented people, but they don't talk to each other; where the feedback and learning loops are broken; and where management fails to connect the dots. This is the Enron model of organizational stupidity, and in my view it is the most powerful explanation for the kind of organizational stupidity that Albrecht identifies in his eponymous law. But Albrecht's questionnaire is not designed to detect this kind of stupidity.


Karl Albrecht, The Power of Minds at Work: Organizational Intelligence in Action (2002)

Karl Albrecht, Organizational Intelligence & Knowledge Management: Thinking Outside the Silos. The Executive Perspective (pdf)

Karl Albrecht, Organizational Intelligence Profile: Preliminary Assessment Questionnaire (pdf 2002)

See also OrgIntelligence in Iran

1 comment:

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