So, I have been writing cynically about the “smugosphere” – that place where normal rules of performance assessment to not apply because people are Doing Good For The Cause.
And I just kind of stumbled on a very very interesting paper by one Wolfgang Seibel;
Seibel, W. 1996. Successful Failure: An Alternative View on Organizational Coping. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 39, (8), pp. 1011- 1024.
He looks at the reasons behind the continued and tolerated ‘under-performance’ of a shelter for victims of domestic violence and a sheltered workshop for people with intellectual disabilities.
Here are some quotes-
In the business world, though, the hard indicators of performance, namely, figures on profit and losses, will ultimately unveil the truth. But as long as measurement of organizational performance is blurry, information asymmetries between principals and agents may persist. For instance, if the quality of services is hard to evaluate because either reasonable scales of measurement do not exist or the person who purchases a good or service is not the consumer (as in the case of day care services)., the principals have no sound basis for their judgment on performance. Under such circumstances, the agent’s incentive to tell the truth about poor performance is substantially weakened…. Consequently, low-performance organizations may persist or, even worse, due to lower production costs, they may supersede high-performance organisations.
Efficient management would publicly reveal the ubiquitousness [sic] of a phenomenon that is subject to public reticence. It would remind a male-dominated public how recklessly males are treating women, and it would remind society of the inappropriate funding for those institutions that take care of what, presumably, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence against women. Why should a male-dominated public be interested in such kind of efficiency.
To acknowledge openly how poorly [women’s shelters] are performing would cause serious cognitive dissonances. According to different ideological stances, it would either mean to acknowledge that a serious societal problem is rather insufficiently being dealt with or that something that in one’s own perception is not a serious problem at all is subject to a waste of money and human energy
Efficient… management would put this arrangement into jeopardy. It would destabilize existing networks as well as undermine the role of board members as influential gate keepers in terms of resource mobilization…. Whether or not one of the board members would blow the whistle would be essentially uncertain. This kind of mistrust and uncertainty would destroy the basis of networking. Accordingly, board members must be essentially interested in sustaining the illusion that decent work is being done.
Presumably, interests and ideologies are mutually dependent. The interest in low degrees of organizational performance causes the need for justifying ideas. But the ideas would not create a stable veil of ignorance if they were not based on interests. Thus ignorance itself is what those providing resources have to be interested in. One can hardly imagine permanent failure without demand for ignorance.
Plausible ideologies are available that protect the organization against the ‘inappropriate’ application of efficiency and accountability standards, thus mitigating the cognitive dissonances caused by the gap between poor performance and the standards of organizational efficiency and accountability.
Efficient management may not only jeopardize informal social networks, it may also make the organization independent from single sources of monetary support. Such attempts to reach flexibility and independence are likely to violate the interests of those who primarily use the organization for networking, because these interests are best being served through enduring dependence of a given non-profit organization from a given set of sponsors.
Excellent and cynical stuff – and he references an article which I then went and read (and it is a corker).
Meyer J and Rowan, B. 1977. Institutionalized organizations. Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 83, pp. 340-262.