We live in a world where change is all over the place. Furthermore, the rate of change is constantly accelerating, that is, in terms of physics, change is undergoing a positive jerk (should be a familiar notion to readers of this blog… 🙂
The below image, from a recent presentation made by Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Alan W. Brown of Surray Business School, depicts some aspects of change that occur within a single minute (60s!)
The massive amount of change forces companies and organisations to adapt, very quickly e.g. to find new business models, new operational practices, new technologies, new knowledge, but first and foremost (but unfortunately least well known!) it also forces companies and organisations to embrace new management and leadership practices – those based on placing customer value first – and ultimately, invert the traditional “command & control” organisational hierarchy, which supposes and prescribes that all cognitive capabilities reside in the uppermost levels of the organisational hierarchy, and as a corollary, that all decisions that matter should be taken at the top – those at the leaf level are there to execute orders, to function as mere “human automatons”.
The management and leadership practices still dominating our world today are based on principles and thinking of the early industrial age, where work was primarily of physical nature, simple to understand, and demanded little if any cognitive capabilities. One illustration of such work is the task of moving a pile of bricks from one place to another – the only thing it demands, from the workers, is the ability to move as many bricks from point A to point B, as quickly and as reliably as possible.
These types of “moving-a-pile-of-brick”-jobs, are very easy to measure (“Johnny managed to move 700 bricks, but Charlie only moved 500 bricks”), which allows for an easy rating of the value of each employee, and likewise make employee ranking a breeze.
But what about the jobs of today’s knowledge industry ? Are they equally easy to quantify and measure…? In the software business, to take one example from that new industry of knowledge, the amount of lines-of-code is hardly a good metric for employee value contribution, and “fluffier” metrics such as function-points per day, or story-points per day are not very reliable nor objective measures either – without a firm, objective, comparable and well defined “dimension” to measure, any measurement is “fluffy” at best, and very misleading at worst… Still, most (large) organisations still practice this Tayloristic metrics & measurements approach from the early 1900 century.
And most (large) organisations are still stuck – despite all the talk about “going agile”, or “being innovative is absolutely necessary for survival”) – in the hierarchical organisational command & control structure that stems from the earliest times when people organised in large numbers, the armies of the Roman empire.
The problem with that organisational structure is that it’s not very receptive to adaptation, it does not promote innovation, creativity nor employee motivation, it does not inspire employees, and it’s not very permissive at all of rapid change.
How come then, that we still to such a large extent live within these anachronistic and obsolete organisational structures and patterns of behavior ?
One reason is that within many large organisations, the topmost spots in the organisational hierarchy are occupied by folks that have risen upp thru the ranks, internally, folks that have spent all their career within the same organisation. That is, we are talking about organisations where the future leaders have been subject to corporate Group Think for most if not all of their careers, and where their ability to think outside of the existing “corporate box” is severely limited. In other words, these organisations are lead by leaders who suffer from a high degree of inbreeding.
Therefore, it will be close to impossible for these new leaders to think of, even less to accept, ideas that are not based on “proven best practices” – “this is how we’ve always dealt with problems” – and that’s hardly the best response to the radical changes occuring in today’s world, and the quick responses and adaptability those changes demand.