Beware Dogmatism: it's Anti-Agile

Blog post
By Pam Ashby | 2 March 2018

In a world where 'passion' and 'belief' tend to be heavily over-used and ‘Agile evangelists’ abound, we need to take note of Dr Steve Morlidge when he advises us "to be wary of dogmatism. We cannot lay claim to ‘the truth’.”

His words are in the closing paragraphs of his work, The Little Book of Beyond Budgeting and his advice is directed to proponents of his Beyond Budgeting (BB) approach. For Steve, BB holds relevance far beyond the financial community. He describes it as "more like an [organisation’s] operating system, largely hidden from view but critically important to the functioning of the entire system". BB is a way of working that encourages organisations to target effectiveness and productivity, rather than simply seeking to comply with a fixed set of numbers. In his book he quotes Jack Welch:

“Making a budget is an exercise of minimalisation. You’re always trying to get the lowest out of people, because everyone is negotiating to get the lowest number.” Jack Welch 

Enabling not managing performance

Beyond Budgeting is about enabling performance rather than managing it; about trusting competent staff, rather than controlling them. It’s a radical alternative vision to equip an organisation to be more adaptive and responsive to cope with the demands of a complex and fast-moving environment. The principles of BB are completely in tune with those of business agility, in moving away from a traditional command-and-control method of financial planning, based on the financial year, to a far more flexible approach involving self-organisation and collaboration.

His point about dogmatism is that neither business agility nor BB should be seen as "the right answer" and "the only way". Steve recognises that both are part of a drive to "find ways of working that are in tune with the world in which we live". He points out that the core value lies in the principles of any approach and what these principles represent for a business. By being too fixed about the specific way in which they are applied, we risk alienating "potential allies who advocate a different manifestation of the same kind of ideas.

Dogmatism can be defined as:

‘the tendency to lay down principles as undeniably true, without consideration of evidence or of others.’ Oxford Dictionary of English

This is very anti-Agile. Collaboration and openness to the ideas and inspirations of others is at the heart of Agile principles. New approaches such as Beyond Budgeting do not need to be unique to be highly valued. Steve Morlidge encourages us to see its real power as "its resonance with many other modern management ideas and its ability to remove the biggest barrier to their successful implementation."

He offers sound advice. For some the content and themes within this blog, and generally, may seem surprisingly broad – including finance, HR, marketing and topics well beyond the original scope of Agile projects.

As the nature of the workplace changes, it’s the principles of business agility that matter, not the specific ways and routes through which they can be applied. We need to stay true to the agility we so fervently believe in by sustaining a broad, collaborative and independent community to support business agility – in all its forms.

Dr Steve Morlidge discussed the Beyond Budgeting approach in a webinar hosted by Jenny Bailey on 21 March 2018 at 11am. This webinar was open to all Members of the Agile Business Consortium, who can watch it here 


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