Reinventing Management in the 21st Century


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Last year a group of renowned scholars and business leaders got together to discuss the future of management. Organized by Gary Hamel of the Harvard Business School, the two day event was designed to think about the fundamental principles, processes and practices of management that will drive success in the future. The group identified shared beliefs and after much contentious deliberation also "moonshots of management."

The shared beliefs included the notion that management is one of humankind's most important social technologies, a recognition that current management models are seriously out of date and third that management must be reorganized to become more adaptable, innovative and inspiring places to work. Of the 25 moonshots of management, a few stood out for me which I'm discussing here because they jive with social influence and the role it plays inside and outside of organizations. 
1) To ensure that management's work serves a higher purpose both in theory and in practice. It must be oriented towards the achievement of significant and noble goals. This makes obvious sense as management is always a means and never an end unto itself. However, a critical question is whether managers are incentivized to genuinely think in terms of significant and noble goals and measure themselves against these higher purposes. Would you say that of AIG for example? Does the stock market reward companies that do? I'm not so sure.

2) Fully embed the ideas of community and citizenship into management systems. This is defined as the need for processes and practices that reflect the interdependence of all stakeholder groups. I would argue that by defining it that way, the embedding is not going far enough. The management systems need to be an amebic translation of the communities from which they rise and in turn serve. Thanks to communication technologies and social media those stakeholder groups aren't static and nor are their perceptions of the organizations. The community is a lot closer to the organization than ever before.

3) De-structure and disaggregate the organization. This one is explained as the need to become more adaptable and innovative by disaggregating larger entities into smaller, more malleable units. I respectfully disagree with this notion, With the advent of social technologies, the user generated content revolution and with the way ideas flow between organizations organizations and into them, the size of the organization matters less. It is more important to allow for the natural flow of information, the organic creation, evolution and dissolution of social networks between people and for emergent, situational mechanisms to support this malleability. It is not a question of big versus small.

4) Create a democracy of information is another interesting one and is explained as developing holographic information systems that equip every employee to act in the interest of the entire organization. This is important and I feel necessary to hold onto the most talented employees. However, I would argue that the point is not to develop a new information system rather than to provide access to the information or the "company APIs" so that employees can create their own information systems, leverage third party ones as they choose and then act in the best interest of the entire organization. Information aren't assets anymore, they're raw materials and employees should be able to do what they please with them especially if it also means they recombine them (maybe with others outside an organization) to make something new. A little more letting go is needed here.

5) Depoliticize decision-making which is defined as allowing decision making processes to be free of positional biases and done in a manner that taps into the collective wisdom of the entire organization. Here's another one that I'd say is a touch naive. You cannot depolitize decision-making as long as you have the company as an organizing unit with corporate hierarchies in place. To try to depolitize is unrealistic. It is better to start by encouraging employees to declare their politics and recognize how their own decision making is influenced by their positional biases. Tapping into the collective wisdom is important but it too can only be successful when the biases are revealed. More useful would be to expose the decision-making process to the broader world and tap into the collective wisdom of all stakeholders and not just employees. There'd be less politicization of decision-making.

So how doe these five points relate to social technologies? Because a lot of these issues are contested, negotiated and enacted within the digital environments of large organizations and in more public forums online where managers congregate. Whether the decision making is taking place in a collaborative workspace, information is being shared via a wiki, organizational units are being formed or ideas are being harnessed on an intranet or through something like LinkedIn, these all happen digitally through the electronic culture of an organization and how it relates to its outside world via social technologies.

You can find the complete list of moonshot ideas over at Gary Hamel's blog.


Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.

4 Comments

Fitzroyalty said:

What utter twaddle. While good intentioned this is hopelessly naive and ignores human nature. Information is power and your average office sociopath will never give it up. The information democracy and radical transparency made possible and encouraged by the internet is anathema to social and political control. Office sociopaths (aka managers) gain power by defining and controlling a scarcity of information and excluding people to subordinate them. Information destabilises power, which is why sharing information is always rejected by the corporate mentality.

Shiv Singh Author Profile Page said:

Thank you for your comments. I certainly agree that the perspective can be considered a little naive. Most organizations are inadvertently structured to reward those that hoard information and use it as competitive advantage. That's why they need to change from the very core. What's happening though is that with information becoming so commoditized, it is less of a strategic asset that can be hoarded. Rather how it is remixed and molded is what matters. Those that can do this with people both within and outside the organization are the ones who'll get ahead.

Mike Exon Author Profile Page said:

Great overview of the gig and interesting insights Shiv. It sounds like Gary Hamel's still shooting high, which is no bad place to aim, but just a little unrealistic for the everyday gang. I agree with the idea that corporate management largely fails to act 'nobly' or about anything lesser than shareholder value by and large. Deomcracies of information sound sensible but we all need to arrange information hierarchically so we have a basis on which to move forward and make decisions. There was a good article in the Times relating to how 70% of IBM's suppliers found that being unable to process and structure information now is becoming a stumbling block of great concnern. It was described as 'overwhelming and fragmented' (http://tinyurl.com/co9opc).

I have to say the more I think about the big idea of how to integrate social aesthetics into corporate land, the more it sounds like an oxymoron. All the attempts discussed by Hamel et al to deconstruct organisational impediments seem to end up deconstructing the organisations themselves! Top down just doesn't really fit bottom up, or does it?

Alberto said:

It's not only about human nature. It's about the setting. Nothing, no externality or higher purpose, takes priority ahead of profit. Corporate status-quo only changes when profit is hurt.

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