In my blog post, “The Death—and Reinvention—of Management”, I presented a synthesis of a whole host of recent management books (including mine: The Leader's Guide to Radical Management) and suggested that the reinvention of management involves five simultaneous shifts in terms of the firm’s goal (a shift from inside-out to outside-in), the role of managers (a shift from controller to enabler), the mode of coordination (from bureaucracy to dynamic linking), the values being practiced (a shift from value to values) and communications (a shift from command to conversation). (By the way, thanks for all the great comments: really wonderful!)
One reader wrote to me along the following lines:
Most traditional companies are going to find the challenge of doing all five shifts simultaneously formidable. Sure, that’s the ideal way to do it. But do you think there are any steps along the path to achieving all five, like doing a few together, moving on to the next? Your article makes it sound binary—all or nothing. Are there some interim steps to get to all?
In chapter 11 of my new book, I give examples of companies doing all five shifts at once. Most of them started on a small scale and then let the success spread. There was one case, Salesforce.com, where the firm does appear to have succeeded by doing it across the board, all at once. That's the exception. In most cases, the firms start small, get some experience, and then let it spread.
So if those firms can succeed, why not everyone else?
Is it really so difficult? What the shifts entail is pretty much how people act naturally before they start getting infected by the virus of traditional management as transmitted by business schools, textbooks, management consultants and all the firms currently doing that. Here’s what the shifts involve:
"People do best what they do for themselves in the service of delighting others. When they are in charge of their own behavior, they take responsibility for it. When they are able to work on something worthwhile with others who enjoy doing the same thing, the group tends to get better. By working in short cycles, everyone can see the impact of what is being done. When people are open about what is going on, problems get solved. Innovation occurs. Clients are surprised to find that even their unexpressed desires are being met. Work becomes, as Noel Coward suggested, more fun than fun." (from chapter 12 of The Leader's Guide to Radical Management )
Is that really so difficult? My hunch is that it's not really as hard as it might seem at first glance.
Doing the five shifts at once is like getting rid of some bad habits, like smoking. Fifty years ago, some people were making a lot of money out of making and selling cigarettes, but eventually we as a society decided that it wasn't a good idea, and now we live in a largely smoke-free environment; in fact, looking back, we find it hard to imagine how we put up with all that smoke, fifty years ago, but we did it. We broke the habit. So it is with the changes needed in management. It’s like getting back to the way we act naturally before we fell into bad habits. It's hard to make the change because we have been living with the habits for so long and we have even become addicted to the habits, and some people make a lot of money out of continuing the bad habits, but we've got it break the habits, because they’re unhealthy for the organization, for the worker, for the customer, for the manager and for society.
In fact, one reader (Dave Duggal) has suggested in a fascinating comment posted in the discussion of my article (Thanks, Dave!) that the five shifts are really just one shift—from scientific management to emergence. In philosophical terms, I think that’s correct. But in practical terms, I am not sure people would know what to do if I said, “You’ve got to shift from scientific management to emergence!” Or as the article itself suggests at the end, "a shift from a focus on things to a focus on people".
So if that was all the article said (i.e. one big shift), the inevitable question would be: what does that mean? So I’ve broken it down into the five shifts involved. In practice, to implement those five shifts, most people will need even more guidance. That’s why my new book spells out more than seventy practices that are needed to support the five big shifts. So “one big shift” is too general to be useful, while “more than seventy practices” are too detailed for people to comprehend what I am talking about. “Five big shifts” is an attempt to present something that people can get their minds around and understand what is involved, without getting lost in all the details of actually implementing it.
In any event, I believe that implementing the five shifts at once is what has to happen. I don't see any other way. To my knowledge, when organizations do just one or two of the shifts, it can have some short-run success, but then the change is undermined by the other elements which aren't aligned with the different way of doing things.
Can you really get the energy of self-organizing teams if you continue to communicate through commands and instructions? Can you really delight clients with bureaucracy? Can you really expect self-organizing teams to be productive if they are not focused on what customers want? Can you make any of this happen on a consistent and scalable basis without dynamic linking? Can you really delight clients if the organization is obsessed with the value of making money? The five shifts fit together as a self-reinforcing package of changes.
Even if I were to issue waivers ("As a special favor, Steve Denning is hereby giving you a waiver so that you only have to do two or three of the needed shifts, and in your case that will be ok.") would it help? Obviously, it doesn't matter what I say. It's a matter of what works. I don’t believe that partial implementation can work on a sustained basis.
Am I right? Let’s open the floor for discussion. Am I being too dogmatic and binary here, saying it’s “all or nothing”? Or is there a short cut, or set of interim steps that would ease the journey? Let’s hear from you!