chapter  8
Uncertainty, contradiction and paradox: so what can managers do?
Pages 12

In the course of this book I have written extensively about uncertainty, contradiction and paradox, and the reader may come away with the impression that somehow I am making an argument against managing. This is sometimes the reaction I get after a presentation to groups of managers about organizational complexity: if I point to the limits of management as a discipline of prediction and control, some managers think that what I am saying is equivalent to arguing that managers do not matter and that they cannot make a difference. Perhaps it is time to state unequivocally that there is nothing wrong with trying

to plan, to lead, to make sense, to order, to make things cohere, to try to control conflict. Perhaps all I am drawing attention to is the way that complex reality constantly breaks out of our attempts to control and define it. In other words, when managers become convinced that they have to control meaning, to impose one culture on the organization, to fix sense-making, then they have overreached themselves and are likely to stifle spontaneity and creativity in organizations and create the kinds of problems that I have pointed to in this book, by calling out the opposite of what they intend. For example, the notion that you can control people’s beliefs so that they ‘align’

with some idealized notion of organizational values often impels managers to manufacture all kinds of managerial instruments that they and their staff are then obliged to maintain. It is likely to call out gaming behaviour on the part of members of staff, both dividing and uniting, making the whole exercise a hollow one. They can become hedged around with metrics, league tables, cultural ‘barometers’ and all the other managerial appurtenances putting ‘trust in numbers’, as Porter (1995) has argued. In recent decades we have seen what Power (1997, 2007) refers to as an audit explosion as one reaction to organizational uncertainty. Alternatively, attempts to manipulate and control can lead to the creation of organizational cults which are totalitarian in the way that they operate.