Organizational grape theory

I don’t know about you, but when I get some grapes I usually let them sit in the bag for a while and just through out the bad ones as I see them. Occasionally everyone in the family slows down their grape consumption and then I know it is time to clean them up a bit and present them in a nice bowl so that they get eaten. So I spend five minutes and get out the grapes and run some water in the sink. Then I go through the process of picking out each of the little branches in the bag and run them under the water kind of rubbing the grapes together and a bunch fall off right away. Usually the bad grapes are the first to go and in that bunch are also a few that fall off with their branches attached. Then I turn the water off and pick through the branch a little more and find some ones that have a lot of mold or huge spots on them. It is amazing that they don’t fall off in the first process but that always happens. Then I turn my attention to the ones that did fall off and find a few that still have the little branch attached. Usually these are actually pretty good grapes and for some reason the branch broke. I pick those ones out and eat them as my reward for going through the process of cleaning the grapes. Then it is on to the next branch from the bag and the process is started all over again.

There are a lot of theories on organizational management and I won’t claim to be the next Drucker or anything. I have observed and been a part of a number of organizations though and invested in a lot of companies which has brought me to reading a lot about organizations to learn how to invest in the right companies with healthy structures. What I’ve come to realize is that organizational management is really not a lot different than cleaning those grapes occasionally. Organizations usually function pretty well and turn a great profit. If you mess with them too much they’ll either get burned out too quickly and there won’t be any grapes at the other end if you never mess with the organization the mold will spread and you’ll be stuck with no grapes.

So occasionally you do need to get in and clean each of the organizations and perhaps even make them look great with a new face or presentation so that they are attractive and functional again. Some companies do this well and some companies do this poorly. Usually though I think large companies do this poorly because they perform a cursory cleaning and think that is enough. What usually happens is they put the organizational branch under the water and rub the organization around a bit and then call it done. Whatever fell off in the process goes away and whatever didn’t fall off stays in the organizational branch. Then the do the process with the next organizational branch. They just clean the grapes and put them in the bowl without another look.

What is missed in this process is that sometimes the bad management chains drop some great people in the process but the management chain stays with the organization. Rarely are those bad management chains looked at as the problem and rarely are those great people brought back into adding value. Those dropped grapes in the sink are lost forever regardless of why they were dropped. Sometimes they are the tastiest grapes.

The other thing that is missed is the bad people that hold on tight through strong management chains and continue to infect peers in their group until a large portion of the company goes bad. Rarely are those bad people examined more thoughtfully and pulled out so that they don’t infect their peers and continue to detract from value. The moldy grapes sit in the new bowl and continue to erode the best tasting grapes next to them.

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