Art Kleiner biography - Core Group Theory
VBM Thought Leader: Art Kleiner biography
Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege and Success
About Art Kleiner: : biography / resume / curriculum vitae
Art Kleiner is the editorial director of the Fifth Discipline series of management books and columnist for Strategy+Business magazine and a writer, lecturer and editorial consultant with a background in management, interactive media, corporate environmentalism, scenario planning, and organizational learning.
Art Kleiner published an earlier book called "The Age of Heretics", a history of the thinkers and practitioners who sparked the modern organizational change movement; it was a finalist for the Edgar G. Booz award for most innovative business book of 1996.
He is a co-author (with Peter Senge et al) of the bestselling Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (1994), The Dance of Change (1999), and Schools That Learn (2000) -- a multiple-author trilogy published by Doubleday, focusing, respectively, on organizational learning, sustaining change in business, and the education system. He is the Director of research and reflection at Dialogos, a consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a faculty member at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program.
Art lives outside New York City.
Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege and Success starts with a hilarious anecdote about an Exxon Oil employee conference to announce their new "core values". Enshrined as number one on their list of core values was this simple sentence: "The customer comes first". That night there was an executive dinner, and after a few drinks a brash young rising star named Monty proposed a toast. "I just want you to know," he said, "that the customer does not come first." Then Monty named the president of the division, "He comes first." He named the European president. "He comes second." And the North American president. "He comes third." The Far Eastern president "comes fourth." And so on for the fifth, sixth and seventh senior executives of that division, all of whom were in the room. "The customer," concluded Monty, "comes eight." An Exxon retiree who told me this story said: "There was an agonized silence for about ten seconds. I thought Monty would get fired on the spot. Then one of the top people smiled, and the place fell apart in hysterical laughter. It was the first truth spoken all day."
According to Art Kleiner, "The customer comes first" is one of the three great lies of the modern corporation. The other two being: "We make our decisions on behalf of the shareholders" and "Employees are our most important asset."
In Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege and Success Art Kleiner tries to answer the question what is the actual objective of the modern corporation, making the bold statement that what comes first in every organization is keeping the Core Group (normally most of the top executives) satisfied. And yet, according to Kleiner Core Groups are not inherently bad or dysfunctional, but rather necessary and even the best hope we have for ennobling humanity, since organizations are natural amplifiers of human capability. An organization's Core Group is also the source of its energy, drive and direction. or more accurately, any organization goes wherever its people perceive that the Core Group needs and wants to go. Non-members depend upon the Core Group for direction, The Core Group and its members depend upon the non-members for their legitimacy.
You will not often find Core Groups mentioned in any organization chart. They exist in people's hearts and minds only. After some time, organizations will resemble how their Group act and looks like and automatically pivot and twist to give the members of the Core Group what they think they want and need, without even asking them. Great Core Groups hold an essential form of knowledge. They set the context that establishes this knowledge as significant. (Compare: Intellectual Capital).
How do Core Groups become so powerful? Kleiner explains the mechanism is based on guesswork and amplification. People who are not in the Core Group try to guess as good as they can what it is the Core Group wants. So even a casual remark in passing by a Core Group member can be amplified to a shift of direction of an entire division. As a consequence, Top Managers need to be very cautious in what they say. According to Kleiner, concepts like the Balanced Scorecard do not really change this. Although more objective measurements may be used and there is better strategic communication top-down, still a lot of guesswork remains: people assume that they should interpret the numbers according to what they perceive the Core Group really wants, and also people assume they should interpret the Core Group according to the numbers: if the measurements send a clear signal, then people assume that is where the Core Group wants the organization to go. Core Group dynamics also prevent organizations from changing easily according to Kleiner. Both the Core Group and the non-Core Group employees have an interest in maintaining the status quo.
Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege and Success also gives interesting examples of Core Groups: Enron (...), HP, Government Agencies, and includes special chapters on the role labor unions, management consultants and schools play. Kleiner ends the book with reflections on Making a Better World, giving important tips and clues on what not to do and what should be done if one wants to influence or even change a Core Group and discussing Corporate Governance, Corporate Purpose and how Core Groups thinking relates to the world we and our children live in.
Are Core Groups and Core Group theory relevant within Value Based Management? Of course they are. Managing for Value (the second of the three components of VBM) should be seen in another perspective if Kleiner is right. Perhaps the "managing" in corporations often is indeed primarily aimed at satisfying the needs of the Core Group. Also executive compensation and corporate governance regulation become even more important then than they already are.
Kleiner suggests that is it is possible to create "Expanded-Core-Group Organizations". To do this, the following elements are suggested:
- employee stock-ownership plans
- financial literacy
- non-hierarchical decision-making
- comprehensive (financial and strategy) training programs
This is were Core Group theory is very much like Value Based Management thinking.
As far as the Value Creation part of VBM is concerned it is important whether one should aim primarily at maximizing shareholder value or stakeholder value or that in reality the Core Group comes first, principally a form of stakeholder value. Core Group dynamics can indeed explain how it is possible that companies adopting the maximizing shareholder philosophy often end up in becoming less responsive to shareholders in a meaningful way. If Core Group members lack adequate knowledge or experience or mistakenly(!) decide that the organization's first job is to keep up the stock price, the easiest way of doing that is the presentation of slowly but steadily growing positive quarterly figures. Through guesswork and amplification the entire organization will follow a Core Group that makes this severe mistake and will support the Core Group in providing a manipulated and wrong picture of the reality instead of what really should be done: taking decisions that maximize shareholder (or stakeholders) value.
Kleiner goes one step further saying: "we need a model that recognizes the primacy of the Core Groups while constraining them from abuses of power" and suggests we need a third model (besides stakeholder value and shareholder value): a model that recognizes the primacy of Core Groups while constraining them from abuses of power.
This is where we would slightly disagree with Kleiner: Core Groups are a mechanism, a model that explains who really matters, but not an end. Through writing Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege and Success Art Kleiner has given us a brilliant insight in the dynamics why organizations often fail to implement Value Based Management or their corporate purpose. But Core Groups should not be what really matters. In other words: what really matters for organizations is whether they do what they were created and exist for: taking care of the desired value creation for its shareholders and/or stakeholders (Value Based Management).
For its description and analysis of how Core Groups work, this book should become a management classic and Kleiner's book is highly recommended for any top manager, strategy consultant or corporate governance specialist acting in the field of Value Based Management.
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