Managing to grow

Antony at Open has been digging into some interesting questions about the changing nature of management and providing environments for leadership in a new world. The first post deals with the concept of ‘command and control’ being dead. The second talks Shona Brown’s contribution in exactly that area to how Google organises and manages itself.

The same issue is at the heart of Ken Robinson’s excellent new book The Element which I’m half way through at the moment.

Here perhaps is the best way to phrase it: If you were going to build a company tomorrow, which had to deal with both the current economic climate, and one which would be ready to take advantage of the growth that will undoubtedly follow our current worries, how would you do it? How would you structure it, what sort of market would you want to be in and so on.

At some point, the market will pick up. God knows when that will be, but when it does I think it’s reasonable to assume we will again experience rapid and transformational expansion with some big winners and big losers (althought the losers may not have to pay the price until the next bust).

Given this position, clearly most people would pick the right ingredients to cook with: the best and brightest staff, the latest technology, perhaps a nice office in a cool part of London or New York. The finance orientated would want to find some funding that wasn’t too immediately tied to results. And cetainly, we’d want to be in a market that wasn’t too subject to regulation, and perhaps – at first at least – not too subject to competition.

There are some other important details of course: nice corner office for yourself, and lets not forget the company jet (hopefully that will come back into fashion sooner rather than later).

The real question  and the one which Antony and Ken Robinson are talking about is how you would manage your team to enable both operational efficiency and innovation.

I believe the natural inclination is still to go for a model with several heads-of things, reporting lines, lots of objective setting, reporting and all that.

Are Cisco crazy when they say they are running their business through social networks? Are Google crazy when Shona Brown says the way to proceed is ‘is to avoid creating too much structure.’

Well let’s go back to the question ‘If you were going to build a company tomorrow…’ and now you can assume that no member of staff will ever make a mistake or come into the office feeling a bit lazy, or stop acting in the best interests of the company.

The idea of the ‘heads-of’ starts to look not just a bit like overkill, but also like it will stiffle the innovation which could be the difference between long-term success and failure (even as it enables the operational efficiency that delivers short-term success).

I know what you’re thinking: that’s just not realistic; our ‘top down’ methods are tried and tested.

In this post Mary Poppendieck talks about how we got to our current ‘tried and tested’ methods. These are the ‘tried and tested’ methods of Enron, of Lehman, of RBS. These are the command and control structures that will document, but not resolve, the demise of the major record labels and many national newspapers. Not a single person will be to blame but those companies will go out of business nevertheless.

We’ve seen these more loose and responsible methods already work in the most diverse of industries. In software manufacture (Agile) in product innovaton (3M) and in killing the US auto industry (Toyota).

What is the number one requirement to implement these more progressive, more responsive, more dynamic team structure? It’s not technology or infrastructure or even smart management teams. It’s the ability to have faith in (and to inspire conviction in) the whole team. It’s leadership by sharing responsibility, rather than leadership by detail.

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