I wrote this post about three months ago for my personal blog. Today I was talking with a colleague about it, decided to re-read it, and have now gone through and edited it (in an attempt at greater clarity). I hope it adds to this conversation on the future of work, and I’d also be delighted to learn what anyone may think of it … good, bad or indifferent.
Gary Hamel has called for fundamental management innovation in his recently-published book The Future of Management. This call to exploration, experimentation and action is aligned with the emergence of the much-debated arena of Enterprise 2.0.
Here’s a key excerpt:
This may not be a detailed design spec for a 21st-century management system, but I doubt it’s far off. Argue with me if you like, but I’m willing to bet that Management 2.0 is going to look a lot like Web 2.0.
Most of us grew up in a "post-industrial" society. We are now on the verge of a post-managerial society, perhaps even a post-organizational society.
Before you object, let me assure you that this doesn’t imply a future without managers. Just as the coming of the knowledge economy didn’t wipe out heavy industry, so the dawning of a post-managerial society won’t produce a world free of executives and administrators. Yet it does herald a future in which the work of managing will be performed less and less by "managers". To be sure, activities will still need to be coordinated, individual efforts aligned, objectives decided upon, knowledge disseminated, and resources allocated, but increasingly this work will be distributed out to the periphery.
While Management 2.0 won’t completely supplant Management 1.0, the two versions aren’t entirely compatible. There are going to be conflicts. Indeed, I think the most bruising contests in the new millenium 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. Richard Florida sees the same battle shaping up. In The Rise of the Creative Class, he puts it bluntly: "The biggest issue at stake in this emerging age is the ongoing tension between creativity and organization." This is, perhaps, the most critical and intractable management trade-off of all, and therefore, the one most worthy of inspired innovation.
It will take more than advances in technology to issue in the post-managerial age. As I noted earlier, management and organizational innovation often lags far behind technological innovation. Right now, your company has 21st-century Internet-enabled business processes, mid-20th-century management processes, all built atop 19th-century management principles.
It’s getting clearer and clearer today that the capabilities and dynamics of consumer-based social software … those funny things called blogs, and wikis, and widgets stitched together into web services though the use of APIs … are finding their ways into the workplace. Why wouldn’t they ? After all they are the means by which we are discovering how human activity (purposeful and otherwise) translates to the online environment. People have always been creating and building up "... knowledge through exchanging information, talking and arguing and pointing out other ideas and sources of information and ways to do things."
The 2.0 label is said to denote a more interactive, less static environment. Whether we like it or not, we are passing from an era in which things were assumed to be controllable, able to be deconstructed and then assembled into a clear, linear, always replicable and (thus) static form, to an era characterized by a continuous flow of information. Because these flows feed the activities of organizations large and small, they necessarily demand to be interpreted and shaped into useful inputs and outputs — what we call knowledge work.
What today we call Enterprise 2.0 can also be seen as the emergent stage of the intersection of significant advances in information technology, management science applied to business process and the analysis and control of operational activities. These forces and factors are converging in today’s workplaces, wherein a continuous flow of information is the rule rather than the exception. Thus, as Hamel asserts, it’s useful if not essential to cast a critical eye on the assumptions about static sets of tasks and knowledge arranged in specific (and relatively static) constellations on an organization chart. See all major job evaluation methodologies for more detail
I believe that we need to revisit the fundamental principles of work design AND the basic rules used to configure hierarchical organizations in which the primary assumption is that knowledge is put to use in a vertical chain of decision-making. I am not arguing that we need to replace hierarchy holus-bolus … rather, I am suggesting that the combined capabilities of information systems and social computing, and two decades of widespread experience with team and organizational development processes permits centralization (read hierarchy) where and when necessary, and networked configurations where and when necessary … both centralization and decentralization.
That both centralization and decentralization of information flows in the hands of knowledge workers can operate simultaneously and effectively is, I think, a significant state change, and should be used to inform the basic assumptions about the design of knowledge work.
As for the management innovation called for by Hamel … it is my belief that the organizational development principles that have been developed over the past 30 – 50 years represent a large and pretty coherent body of work that stretches from Participative Work Design through QWL, quality circles, socio-technical systems approaches, self-directed and self-managing teams, GE-style "workouts", inclusive and participative large-scale strategic change methods and dialogue-and-consensus building models and approaches to "management" (visioning, objective setting, responsibility assignment, resource allocation, implementation, measurement, etc.) like Future Search and Open Space.
The various elements of these approaches and methodologies have been pushed or pulled into place over the last several decades as software and integrated information systems have brought constant flows of information to the process of designing, developing and delivering products and services. This in turn has led to fragmentation of efforts ay productivity as well as potentially making it easier, faster and more effective to create flows that are integrated and focused. The trick is to be able to do both and choose which is necessary why and when.
Also, now we more and more often live and work in networks as well as hierarchies. The principles cited in the paragrapsh above have developed over the past several decades to soften, mitigate or work around the more rigid and less effective aspects of hierarchical work and organizational design. The daily and copious flows of information both internally and from customers and markets essentially dictate, now, that much knowledge work takes shape as projects or as time-limited initiative. These require collaboration and the horizontal discovery and use of knowledge when and where it is needed or can best be put to use.
The architectural challenge is to design and implement both work processes and the ways humans interact (with both the work and each other) intelligently whilst allowing for change(s) as needed. That means understanding much better the structure and dynamics of networks and the new influence of greater transparency when addressing issues such as decisions about what is to be centralized or decentralized, who is to be involved and why (competencies, availability, fit with team, and so on), what is individual or group activity, and how accountability, reporting and tracking activities supervised,
Many examples of these factors and influences have appeared on the shelves as the management, leadership and organizational behaviour sections of bookstores have expanded rapidly during the past two decades. The experimentation with inclusive, participative and somewhat democratic developmental processes mirrors some of the core dynamics in the more consumer driven and public involvement in use of the Web.
As similar tools, services and dynamics begin to penetrate our workplaces, I expect we will seek methods, practices and philosophies that track closely in parallel with the process of enquiry, exploration, sensemaking, negotiation and implementation set out by Dave Snowden’s Cognitive Edge approaches to intractable issues and organizational complexity.
I think there is an important coherence to much of what has been being developed over the past two decades or so. To reiterate, as this OD framework has developed much of it was aimed, bit by bit, at mitigating the harsher effects of having to lead and manage hierarchically under old models while striving to discover and use what actually works. Dave Pollard, a well-known knowledge management expert, calls these "workarounds", and has often suggested that most traditional management methods are becoming less and less useful but are still in place as the proxies for status and power. He and I both believe that generally people want to do good and effective work and so keep at it, constantly developing and using work-arounds. This is OD at its most basic … discovering what works best when people need to cooperate and collaborate to get things done and meet objectives, and then working at "learning" it, integrating it into the way things are done around here.
OD principles "understand" and play nice with Web 2.0 participative and collaborative dynamics.
I think OD has suffered from being seen as "soft" and a "nice-to-have-time-to-do", especially in the chaotic and ambiguous environment of the first decade of the 21st century. While it is a maxim in the OD field that "the soft stuff is the hard stuff", this can be and often is brushed aside or put down by the hard-nosed management hard-asses, the "I want to measure everything and tolerate no slack" crowd.
Clearly we need both objectives, metrics and well-defined processes AND enough slack and support to help people learn, adapt and work around ineffective or obsolete policies, practices and processes. I am increasingly of the opinion that there is a coherent and pertinent model available for working effectively in Enterprise 2.0. However it is not seen today as the dominant "management" model.
The dynamics generated by today’s networked knowledge workers using lightweight, easy-to-use social computing tools and web services welded together with existing integrated information systems are similar in reach, scope and pace to the the challenges explored by the field of organizational development … only with more regular frequency and greater intensity.
Taken together as a coherent management framework, perhaps the fundamental principles of organizational development and learning represent the beginnings of the innovation in management Gary Hamel is suggesting we need. Another of the great management thinkers, Stan Davis, suggested as much twenty years ago at the end of Chapter 3 in his 1987 book Future Perfect:
"Electronic information systems enable parts of the whole organization to communicate directly with each other, where the hierarchy wouldn’t otherwise permit it. What the hierarchy proscribes, the network facilitates: each part in simultaneous contact with all other parts and with the company (see expanded definition above)as a whole. The organization can be centralized and decentralized simultaneously: the decentralizing mechanism in the structure, and the coordinating mechanism in the systems.
Networks will not replace or supplement hierarchies; rather the two will be encompassed within a broader conception that embraces both."
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