Breaking Down Management Orthodoxies

Between the idea and the reality Between the motion and the act Falls the Shadow
             (T.S Eliot, The Hollow Men)   Okay, this may describe many of us but, more to the point, it describes the state of many organizations (associations included), immobilized by outdated modes of thinking and stuck in the status quo. Moving from intent to execution and from promise to delivery is crossing the deepest chasm there is.  And rigid, hierarchical, organizations with set ways for doing things and looking at the world, make the divide almost impossible to bridge.  This is why, while most association leaders agree that dramatic change is needed and put qualities such as flexibility, “nimbleness” and member/customer centricity high on their list, they limit innovation to plans, products or isolated initiatives while the cumbersome, inflexible and slow bureaucratic models remain intact.   And this is my point: to truly innovate and lead an organization’s to a next phase we need leaders who can “unshackle” their organizations from the orthodoxies of the industrial, product-driven, hierarchical models of the past; leaders who are able to move from talking about change to doing things differently. This means willingness to begin challenging and replacing/reinventing the basic components of your core business– from governance, to inside-out product development, culture, roles and responsibilities; measures of success. Yet, I don’t hear such objectives as the centerpiece of leaders’ priorities.   Isn’t it time to move beyond theories and scenarios about the future of associations and figure out how to transition from talking the talk to walking the walk?

According to Gary Hamel...

…bureaucracies simply lack the most fundamental capabilities for competing in today’s markets:  

“To beat back the forces of commoditization, a company must be able to deliver the kind of unique customer value that can only be created by employees who bring a full measure of their initiative, imagination, and zeal to work every day…The problem is, there’s little room in bureaucratic organizations for passion, ingenuity, and self-direction. The machinery of bureaucracy was invented in an age when human beings were seen as little more than semi programmable robots. Bureaucracy puts an upper limit on what individuals are allowed to bring to their jobs. If you want to build an organization that unshackles the human spirit, you’re going to need some decidedly unbureaucratic management principles.”  
The need to shift from product-driven, inside-out bureaucracies to customer-centered, responsive models, and the steps for achieving them, are the topics of my book, The Demand Perspective: Leading from the Outside-In.  In his article quoted above, Hamel brings several examples of success achieved by challenging sacrosanct orthodoxies, for example:  
  • Hierarchy; narrow scope of authority and responsibility; roles defined by tasks and functions rather than outcomes. Hamel points to the example of Toyota: “Unlike its Western rivals, Toyota has long believed that first-line employees can be more than cogs in a soulless manufacturing machine; they can be problem solvers, innovators, and change agents. While American companies relied on staff experts to come up with process improvements, Toyota gave every employee the skills, the tools, and the permission to solve problems as they arose and to head off new problems before they occurred. …It was only after American carmakers had exhausted every other explanation for Toyota’s success—an undervalued yen, a docile workforce, Japanese culture, superior automation—that they were finally able to admit that Toyota’s real advantage was its ability to harness the intellect of “ordinary” employees.”
  • Top down strategic planning and product development. “Is there any reason to believe we can challenge this well-entrenched orthodoxy?” asks Hamel. “Sure. Look at Google. Its top team doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to cook up grand strategies. Instead, it works to create an environment that spawns lots of “Googlettes:“ small, grassroots projects that may one day grow into valuable new products and services…The company organizes much of its workforce into small, project-focused teams with only a modicum of supervision… but with a lot of lateral communication and intramural competition. Its developers post their most-promising inventions on the Google Labs Web site, which gives adventurous users the chance to evaluate new concepts.”
  •  The perfect plan fallacy: this is the belief that all you have to worry about is devising a perfect vision and strategy and execution will naturally flow. Nothing could be further from the truth.