Fix management, to fix organizations, to fix the planet



By Charles G. Chandler, PhD

Virginia, USA


The basic idea of traditional management is that each organization, in line with its capabilities, seeks to transform a set of inputs into selected outputs in an efficient manner. Over time, the traditional approach has been the basis for a vast constellation of organizations within the world economy. But the downside of the traditional approach is in full view today because natural systems are significantly degraded as the tragedy of the global commons is writ large, and workers have little motivation or agency to engage in fixing these external issues. When efficiency is the highest good sought by each organization, the approach is extractive, and the surrounding environment suffers. The contribution of greenhouse gases to climate instability is only one example illustrating that the current course is unsustainable. The traditional approach to management is degrading the health of the environment because each individual organization has little concern for its net external effect. The fault is in the traditional input-to-output model that views efficiency as the highest good. Fortunately, the traditional approach is socially constructed and can be changed if we are willing. This paper offers a new input-to-outcome model that: (a) serves to stabilize the health of an organization and its environment as an integrated system, (b) values ‘positive effectiveness’ as the highest good, and (c) engages stakeholders fully in the work. The approach can be used both in temporary organizations (such as projects or programs) or permanent organizations (such as businesses, government agencies, or non-profits).


The paper explores the linkage between the practice of management, the behavior of organizations, and the health of the planet. The paper posits that the constellation of organizations operating across the planet are the primary drivers of planetary ill health, and that underlying the behavior of organizations is the philosophy, theory, and practice of management. The paper points out simplistic assumptions in traditional management practice that drive dysfunctional approaches in organizational systems, leading to negative effects throughout organizations as well as planetary regimes. At a time when the world seems to be spiraling out of control in so many ways, we need a new form of management to help stabilize and repair organizational systems, from local to planetary scale.

It is a simple idea: the way individual organizations are managed is driving the results being seen over time in ever larger organizational systems, including those of planetary scale. If we fix the driver of these results, the results can be different. This can be a very good thing if our approach is sound. The new approach needs to be compatible with the realities of the real world where organizational systems are complex, intertwined, and interdependent. It also must recognize that significant time lags are present in the propagation of large-scale system drivers, making causality difficult to investigate. What seems relatively clear, however, is that if we do not fix management, we cannot fix organizations, and we cannot fix the planet.


To get started, consider what management is about. At its core, management is a cognitive technology. It provides the cognition that drives action within a cooperative endeavor (i.e., an organization, after Barnard [1938]). In referring to cognitive technology I rely on a general dictionary definition, where cognition refers to mental processes that involve thinking or reasoning.

In organizations, individuals may join together to pursue collective aims, but until organized, there is no way to make decisions — no single mind to set the course. Instead, many minds pull in many directions, each belonging to an individual or sub-component within the whole. Management science must provide the cognitive technology. It asks the collective ‘we’, “where are we now?”; “where do we intend to go?”; “how do we get there?”; and “how are we doing?” Despite myriad complaints about bureaucracy, the basic reason organizations write reports and have meetings is to make sense of the current situation in order to move forward, hopefully with one mind. Unfortunately, the cognitive technology found in traditional management does not work well for us today due to its simplistic assumptions and a continuing fixation on efficiency. I have called the current regime “the age of efficiencyism” (Chandler, 2017).

This paper is being presented at a conference on project management. As managers, we have a seat (front and center) on what is happening in the world around us; but we must successfully interpret what we are seeing in order to move forward. Let me submit that success in organizational cognition depends upon our focus. Most organizations are focused on what is right in front of them, related to what they are doing internally (a focus on the efficient conversion of inputs to outputs). This is what traditional management is about. But if we switch to an external frame, it becomes important to understand the response of the adjacent environment to what we are doing now (a focus on outcomes). Even broader, with a long-term horizon, we must focus on the effects that will be propagated over a number of years in response to what we (along with others) are doing now (an impact focus). The basic cognitive task of management is to make sense of the situation, determine where to focus action, and what to count as success.


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 14th UT Dallas PM Symposium in May 2022.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Chandler, C. G. (2022). Fix management, to fix organizations, to fix the planet; presented at the 14th University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, TX, USA in May 2022; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VI, June.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/pmwj118-Jun2022-Chandler-fix-management-fix-organizations-fix-planet.pdf

About the Author

Charles G. Chandler, PhD

Virginia, USA


Charles Chandler is a speaker, author, and podcaster (host of ‘The Age of Organizational Effectiveness’ podcast). Dr. Chandler graduated from the University of Texas at Austin (B.S. and Ph.D.) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (M.S.), where he studied the engineering sciences, as well as economics, environmental sciences, and geology. He founded a management consulting firm (Assumption Analysis, Inc) in 1982, where he has undertaken a variety of assignments for clients over the years. He has worked in 25 countries and has helped formulate major initiatives worth over US$ 80 Billion in countries around the world. Dr. Chandler is a member of the Academy of Management and is a registered professional engineer in Texas. He serves on the board of a non-profit arts foundation.

Dr. Chandler can be contacted at cchandler@assumptionanalysis.com


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