Right now, your company likely has 21st century Internet-enabled business processes, mid-20th century management processes, all built atop 19th century management principles.
While no company would put up with a 1940’s-era phone system, or forgo the efficiency enhancing benefits of modern technology, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you fail to exploit the potential to transform the way the work of management is accomplished.
The only way to build a company that’s truly fit for the future is to build one that’s fit for human beings as well.
From inspiration to execution
The most bruising contests in the future won’t be fought along the lines that separate one competitor or business ecosystem from another, but will be fought along the lines that separate those who wish to preserve the privileges and power of the bureaucratic class from those who hope to build less structured and less tightly managed organizations.
1. The courage to lead
You can’t build a management advantage unless you have the guts to tackle problems others are too timid or too shortsighted to take on. To build a capacity for relentless management innovation, you must be willing to ask, “What new management challenge, if mastered, could give us a unique performance advantage?”
2. An inescapable conversation
Get people thinking about how they can turn management itself into a competitive advantage – commit to a bold goal; deconstruct your orthodoxies; embrace powerful new principles; and learn from positive deviants. If you can help employees understand that history is not destiny, and can create occasions for them to question their hand-me-down beliefs, then you’ll soon have an army of allies ready to help you build a company that’s fit for the 21st century.
3. A focus on causes, not symptoms
To cure a crippling disease, drug researchers have to uncover the genetic flaws or disease mechanisms that cause the malady. The same is true for organizational ‘diseases’ – the incapacities that stem from our inherited management beliefs. Here, too, a painstaking analysis of first causes is essential to inventing a cure. Check for these enemies of adaptability:
- Lack of “genetic” diversity among executives which occurs when most have spent their entire career in one industry.
- A restrictive tangle of standard operating processes that make it impossible for employees to proactively respond to changing circumstances.
How many of your staff leaders feel personally responsible for helping the company build a bona fide management advantage, rather than just focusing on compliance and efficiency issues? To create a capacity for fast-paced management innovation, you must hold internal process owners responsible for breakthrough innovation. Like line executives who are held accountable for the health of their product pipelines, corporate staffers need to be held accountable for their management innovation pipelines.
5. Permission to hack
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help your company reinvent its management processes is to give employees and managers the opportunity to “hack” those processes. Create a forum in which everyone in the company is free to suggest alternatives to the management status quo. Ask “What management practice or behavior does most to drive really great people out of our company?” Or, “Which of our management practices does the most to destroy employee initiative?”
This is your opportunity to build a 21st century management model that truly elicits, honors and cherishes human initiative, creativity and passion. Do that and you’ll have built an organization that’s fully human and fully prepared for the extraordinary opportunities that lie ahead.
A version of this post originally appeared on the O.C.Tanner blog.