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One of the lasting memories I have from the Peter Drucker Global Forum event held in Vienna, Austria in November 2013 is of the great Charles Handy. His speech was great. But what amused me more was his playfulness. His willingness to still take chances. I caught him staring intently for what must have been a minute at an 100 year old “hop-on-hop-off” wooden elevator with no doors that still functions in the building of the Federation of Austrian Industries building in Vienna (see picture below). Eventually he hopped onto the moving elevator and everything turned out fine to my relief.


Handy’s playfulness is apparent in his metaphors. His Doughnut Principle affords a good example. Paraphrased, it says that each employee can be regarded as a doughnut with an inner core and outer shell. The inner core represents the employee’s job responsibilities, and the outer shell is the loosely defined space where the employee is encouraged to exercise judgment, creativity and initiative. Organizations that are serious about human capital emphasize that which is beyond responsibilities. That is the true source of both resilience in times of change and development in times of opportunity.

We know from countless studies that organizational transformation often fails. Intersecting this observation with Handy’s doughnut could shed some light into the underlying reasons. If transformation is approached from explicit job responsibilities as they cascade down the hierarchy, chances are it will fail. Job responsibilities are simply too rigid and they presuppose a perfect transformation blueprint. Handy’s outer doughnut shell is quite possibly the savior. Appealing to initiative and creativity rather than compliance has a much bigger chance of resulting in organizational resonance. Change cannot ultimately be imposed in the case of purposeful beings. It has to be internalized and processed according to everyone’s uniqueness. Ownership, a willful act of initiative, has to take place first.

The key to organizational transformation has already been handed to us on a plate in the shape of a tasteful doughnut. And it isn’t about business process engineering, mapping communications flows and other such labor intensive activities adored by consultants. It is about the essence of humanism.


Photo credits here and here.