It’s natural that leaders want to be in control. Each of us hopes the future will unfold according to our plans.
Yet in a world where the present is an increasingly unreliable guide to the future, competitive success depends less on planning for what will come next and more on continuously experimenting with what could come next.
Too much of what gets done in most companies is in response to some already pressing issue – there’s no slack, no space for improvisation, and no way to defend projects that aren’t immediately useful.
That’s why so many companies end up on the wrong side of the change curve.
How to innovate management
Your job as a leader and management innovator is to make sure that management systems in your company encourage strategic pre-adaption and aren’t overly reliant on “the way we’ve always done things around here.”
To help you with this transformation, here are three essential building blocks for becoming a management innovator, adapted from The Future of Management by Gary Hamel. These are the critical design specs for a 21st-century management model.
1. Broaden your scope of experimentation
Not only must companies expand the scope of their strategic experimentation, they must also be slower to brand things “unworkable” or “out-of-bounds.” Radical ideas always provoke incredulity at the outset. So you must ask, “In what ways do my company’s current management processes reinforce a narrow view of what is sensible or possible?” How do they dissuade employees from coming forward with idea that are out of the ordinary?
2. Depoliticize decision making
In most companies, there are all sorts of political biases that determine which ideas get selected into budgets and which ones get cut out. This suggests another worthy goal for management innovation: depoliticizing decision making.
New ideas must be given the chance to compete openly for support, rather than being subject to the veto of a single executive or business unit leader. Conversely, there needs to be a process that allows employees to voice their opinions on top management’s pet projects. If you want to increase the survival chances of your company, you need to make sure that natural selection, not executive selection, determines which ideas go forward and which don’t.
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3. The broader the gene pool, the better
Greater diversity – of thought, skills, attitudes, and capabilities – equals a greater range of adaptive responses. The risk in a fast-changing world is that a company becomes over-adapted to a particular ecological niche.
In the pursuit of focus, a company can impair its ability to adapt by hiring in a single mold, narrowing the scope of its innovation efforts, relying exclusively on a single business model, or failing to experiment with new operating models.
As change accelerates, investing in diversity is not a luxury; it’s a survival strategy. Companies often put more effort into training the diversity out of people, through programs that indoctrinate employees in the “one best way,” than they do into bringing fresh ideas into the company. Change that.
As the future unfolds, the competitive environment for business will increasingly favor companies that have learned how to rapidly evolve their core strategies, and will punish firms that are less adaptable.
A version of this appeared previously on OCTanner.com.