Reading the Mind of the Organization – Connecting the Strategy with the Psychology of the Business

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 1 May 2000



Lewis, R. (2000), "Reading the Mind of the Organization – Connecting the Strategy with the Psychology of the Business", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 335-340.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This is a remarkable and inspiring work; one of the most profound management books I have ever read. It has a number of key features. Firstly, its focus is on the reality of organizational life – not theory – and comes directly from the author’s consulting experience. What we get is directly relevant to our own experience and hence something we can work with practically and immediately. Secondly it is extremely challenging in that it demands that we think for ourselves and not use formalized information as much as we do. Thirdly the framework which is used has brought together two spheres widely regarded as separate – the strategic focus of organizations and the psychological reality or factors of the organization. This integration is in itself a remarkable feat but it is then used to show us what needs to be done in practice to get strategy congruent with the dynamic in the business – the needs of customers and of employees in order to make meaningful change happen. The analysis of companies ranging from Merrill Lynch to Daimler‐Benz, from consumer retail organizations to private banking is extremely rich in content and application. My view is that Annamaria Garden has provided us with a paradigm shift in the way organizations will be seen.

The book does not provide us with a quick fix; we are set the challenge of figuring things out for ourselves instead of hiring others to do it for us. We are asked to use our own experience and to think in an original way. She states that to truly “see” the organization we need to use perceptual skills and also bring into play our emotional awareness so that we can understand what is really happening; what the true dynamics and subtle connections are. This entails separating out the presented image or PR and using our own ears and eyes and common sense. Many consultants will find the book uncomfortable. The first analysis, of a financial insurance company, presents a devastating critique of how the hired consultants, engaged on a re‐engineering project, did not do this but instead saw their client as “wrong” and started to impose what was ultimately a disastrous strategy on the company which almost led to business failure. The consultants had no concept of the connections between the psychology of the organization and the way it operated and did business. It had been extremely successful but was almost ruined by the sheer ignorance of the outside consultants. Luckily senior managers finally realized this and were able to stop the downward spiral.

In her framework, adapted from Will Schutz, all organizations need to fulfil three core areas of experience. They need to project themselves to establish that they exist and have presence, to effectively express their power and effectiveness, their competency and lastly to establish genuine engagement and relationships. By using these critical areas, to understand the business, many decisions and activities will work more smoothly. It allows you to figure out the emotional change required in the organization, for example that fits with the strategy for business success to be developed. Annamaria Garden gives us a way through this framework of reading between the lines of statements of business aims and presents some critical questions to use in establishing how organizations are fulfilling these three critical core areas of experience. She uses a number of guidelines, checklists and questionnaires to prompt us into understanding the different ways that organizations can meet these three needs and how well they are functioning in these areas. Immediately you can see how and why some organizations work well and others don’t.

With this understanding, the “essence” of the organization and its uniqueness can be developed. Work needs to be designed to fulfil business and individual feeling needs at the same time for success. Again some key principles are given – the idea of territory, of immediacy and of taking responsibility for effects, not just for what is done.

For consultants who do want to make a difference there are also painful lessons to be learnt. There is an excellent chapter on helping organizations move forward in their own way, of developing their own unique organizational voice. What people in the organization will want to know about consultants will differ depending on what is most important to that organization. For some they will need to be able to identify with them, with others they need to know if they are competent, and will test them in debate and, finally, other organizations focus on whether the consultants are “real” and fully engaged or just putting in an appearance? People can quickly take the measure of those who do not fulfil these criteria and whether they will fit in with that unique organization.

One of the most compelling chapters is on marketing the organization, of understanding what different customers want and how the organization can communicate with them most effectively. There is some superb analysis of company statements and advertisements including an ad from the Union Bank of Switzerland Private Banking and how this conveys a complete set of emotional meanings to customers – something that is rarely done.

To sum up: the book emphasizes the positive side of organizations – that each is special and unique. To understand their essence we have to be open to what is really happening. We have to understand how they establish presence, are effective and how they engage people. Then, and only then, can we begin to develop meaningful connections between the strategic objectives of organizations and the psychology of the organization. This can then be linked to marketing and the way the organization communicates with its customers. If we get this right then we can help the organization live and thrive; get it wrong and the organization will die, both businesswise and emotionally.

This may appear simple but, as already stated, it is not easy. This book challenges us to be real, to be authentic in managing, whether inside an organization or working as a consultant. Annamaria Garden has successfully blended the emotional and business worlds; we are used to operating in one or the other but not in integrating them and she shows us how to do so. As she so successfully shows, if we do not integrate these worlds, then organizations will not be as successful as they could be and will be beset by struggling and fighting. The book is groundbreaking and is transformational. It delivers what it promises at a very deep and profound level. The author deserves to be recognised as a pioneer in business thought, comparable with the other “gurus” of management thinking, but offering a practical and distinctive way forward.

Related articles