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The Disorganizational Management Shift

The Disorganizational Management Shift

A huge shift is happening in the world. There is a “… move from institutions designed for scalable efficiency to institutions designed for scalable learning,” according to a new post on the Harvard Business Publishing blog site. They weren’t just talking about universities, but about every business as well. Simply, the way people work together is evolving in a way that businesses must react.

The old order of business a la 1950’s reflected the military’s top down control with “management points” of every eight to 10 people or so. It was scalable for efficiency. Just add more management points as needed to maintain discipline. Orders came down, and they were executed. “Strong institutional leaders were necessary to mold individuals into two primary roles: customers that consumed products pushed to them on fixed schedules and employees who performed repetitive tasks from nine to five.”

It was our role to buy and drink more rich chocolaty Ovaltine (please), recover with Speedy Alka-Seltzer and then make the Slinky walk down stairs. Oh, but we were just fun-loving lemmings back then.

Ever since Alexander G. Bell sent the first instant message to Watson “come here n pls brng pizza,” nothing has been the same. Technology has empowered the change, but isn’t really the change.

John Hagel III, John Seely Brown (JSB) and Lang Davison, the authors of the article, say “[b]y freeing people to interact and collaborate with others outside of traditional hierarchical organizations, …by democratizing control over communications and media–in these and other ways our digital infrastructure is granting new autonomy and freedom to individuals, both as consumers and as employees.”

People have gained technology-based power in several ways that were, until recently, unimaginable. We are sharing what we know to learn (and teach) faster than ever. Combine this with the power that comes with blogs, articles like this, and word of mouth in large groups (a la Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks) and it is evident that the world has changed. Don’t underestimate these hundreds of millions of people who are active here, and just learning how powerful they really are.

Often I’ve written about how businesses must monitor what is being said in the virtual world, as well as becoming part of the conversation with their customers. No longer will we drink the Ovaltine of the 50’s, but we want businesses to listen to what Ovaltine we do want. (And keep the original flavors too please).

My favorite part of this article is how it recognizes talent and that lip service is paid to in so many organizations.

“The less obvious part has to do with talent. (And by “talent” we mean workers found at every level of the firm, not just the highly trained and deeply skilled knowledge workers one typically thinks of as talent.) From the talent side of the equation the key requirement for institutional success is to move from scalable efficiency to scalable learning.”

A learning organization; how do we create one of those? They sound so cool.

“At best what institutional leaders can do is to create the environments–the “creation spaces”–that foster innovation and faster learning. But here’s the rub: many of these institutional leaders are caught in the mindsets of the previous generation of infrastructures and the related assumption that scalable efficiency is the key to success.”

I submit for your approval, a Mom and Pop store employing teenagers who are not afraid of sharing their bright ideas. They will have an opportunity to grow personally and help the company thrive into the new era. Now take a larger business where more often than not, unsuccessful risk-taking is painfully unrewarded and successful endeavors are watered into some executive’s idea. This “business as usual” thinking may result in a very poor outlook for the company.

“We believe that individuals and institutions are in reality coming to need each other more than ever before. Institutions need talent in order to continue monetizing the intangible assets that make up the lion’s share of today’s corporate profits. And individuals need institutions in order to accelerate and amplify their own growth, and their impact on the world around them.”

Want to see what they’re saying about your brand? Google it. Search blogs. Search it on Twitter. Perhaps it’s not being talked about yet, but why not?

This is more than just creating proactive customer service. It’s making your customer a part of your brand. Think of it as a new way to build brand loyalty.

In the late 1990’s remote-access company Shiva used online message boards with threaded conversations to open a dialogue with customers. Users were mostly technical, but comprised all ages and a willingness to help “newbies.” Customers shared what they liked about the products, what they needed in future releases. The information was shared weekly between product management and executives to become more responsive. Software patches were prioritized by user’s feedback, and reinforced with community and web analytics. While bought by Intel, they developed some major-league brand loyalty while rewarding risking successes and failures. Today, some ten years after the sale, several hundred people continue to meet at their annual “gathering” because, to quote one early member of the team, “this was a special place.”

How will turning our workplaces into centers of scalable learning change the way we teach our kids in school? Sir Ken Robinson at a 2006 TED conference pointed out that “Nobody has a clue …what the world will look in five years’ time, yet we’re meant to be educating them for it.” Creativity, innovation, team collaboration and problem solving skills will no doubt be necessary – something missing in the still-used 1950’s education menu.

We need to make our businesses learning companies that interact with our customers. We need to be able to escalate those messages, and close the loop with the customers. Ovaltine, I’m talking, are you listening? How about you? After all, “given that innovation is inherently a human activity–one performed by talented individuals–it follows that talent will pull institutions into the 21st century.”

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