Lessons of management


The naming of parts

Today we have the naming of parts. Yesterday,

We had the appraisal system. And tomorrow

We have what to do after assessment. Camellias

Glisten like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens

And today we have the naming of parts.

These are the core competences. And these

The deraillers, whose use you will see

When you get the test results. And this is the leadership matrix

Which in your case you have not got. The branches

Hold in the garden their silent, eloquent matrix,

Which in our case we have not got.

This is the leadership development system, which is launched

By an easy touch on the keyboard. And please do not let me

See anyone using pen and paper. You can do it quite easy

If you understand the IT system. The blossoms

Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see

Any of them using pen and paper.

And this is the talent management system. The purpose of this

Is to sort the wheat from the chaff. We can rate people

Rapidly, backwards and forwards: We call this

Ensuring development. Rating people backwards and forwards

The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:

They call it ensuring development.

They call it ensuring development: it is perfectly easy

If you understand the human resource management system,

Like the appraisal, the deraillers, the test results, and the matrix

Which in our case we have not got: and the almond blossom

Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards

For today we have the naming of parts.


With acknowledgement to Henry Reed (1914 – 1986) and grateful thanks for his wonderful, original, poem ‘Naming of Parts’, first published in The New Statesman and Nation 24, no. 598 (8 August 1942): 92, and contained in the collection “Lessons of the War” (1970). http://www.solearabiantree.net/namingofparts/namingofparts.html; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqSubQht96A, accessed 10/8/15

Roger writes:

I used this poem by Henry Reed as a basis for my playful pastiche for a number of reasons.

The original poem speaks to me in a number of ways. It is itself written with a sense of irony with its Latin tag lines from Horace (Vixi duellis nuper idoneus/Et militavi non sine gloria) substituting ‘war and battles’ for ‘girls’. An interplay on the parallel lust for glory and the pursuit of love and an unanswered question as to which is the more meaningful?

In its structure Reed contrasts the almost mind-numbing repetition of military training with a yearning for natural beauty and a sense of the dynamic rhythms of life with the bees fumbling and going backwards and forwards. I also sense (and as with all poems any interpretation is very personal and open to challenge) the formulaic repetition of the naming of the parts bestowing a false sense of safety if one instructs people to follow due process, and also a paternal hierarchy with the comment that it should be easy to flick the safety-catch ‘if you have any strength in your thumb’. The people who have decided how the gun should be operated know best, and if you cannot do it their way, then the fault lies with you.

My pastiche takes this structure and suggests that maybe in many organisations we have developed ever more systems and procedures to manage ‘human resources’, in which compliance is also straightforward ‘if you have any strength in your thumb’. Adherence to these systems also suggests what may be a false sense of safety in that following due process and filling in the forms will lead to a result in the best interests of individual and organisation. Also since the systems are sound and well thought out, if an individual struggles to tick the boxes then the fault probably lies with them.  Yet to many people these processes and boxes to be ticked may not reflect wider gifts and insight, as with Reed using the natural world as an antithesis. There is a pressure for the system to present a Cartesian reality and perhaps imply a risk for other individual, more empirical, emotional or spiritual gifts to be discounted.

About the author

Roger Niven had a corporate career in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a consulting career in the 1990’s and 2000’s, and is currently enjoying the rebirth offered by a portfolio career working part-time with business schools, part-time in a partnership, and part-time as an independent. He is increasingly drawn to the use of history, cultural and artistic awareness, and the telling of stories in his current work as a coach and facilitator.

He is a supporter of the value offered by AMED as a non-regulated association in which people from many backgrounds and experiences can share stories and explore latest thinking. He enjoys especially the e-O&P, internet enabled discussions, and the small group gatherings offered by AMED and the diversity usually represented within these.

He can be contacted at: roger.niven@tmch.co.uk

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