Management Upside Down – Sparkling Insights!

Rahul, a young Executive Director of a fast growing multi-national company startled by his nightmare broke into a cold sweat as he woke up.

What would happen to his vibrant flourishing business if the top management team who were ready to fly to Dubai for the annual sales conference in two days time died of a violent air crash? His global business would then come crashing like a pack of cards and there would be none to look after the vast wealth that has been created as he narrated his nightmare to me. 

“Why would that be?” I asked. 

“Isn’t that obvious? All knowledge of running this company lies with these few chosen ones. Once they were gone wealth vanishes in no time” he replied emphatically. 

“But don’t you think that sooner or later all of them would leave the scene anyway? What do you do then?” I quipped in response.

“Frankly I don’t know. That has really kept me thinking. There are no Jack Welch or A M Naik who is determined to make his way up from the ranks. Don’t know how to make even one?”, Rahul voice trailed off pensively.

This story made me sit up and start thinking. Isn’t this the same story for all companies all over the world? Aren’t people fighting to find an answer to these deep questions on knowledge, leadership and organizations? What can be a possible solution to this business problem that has spread like an epidemic and refuses to let go of its iron grip on our lives?

Such difficult questions possibly can’t be answered through a brilliant stroke of imagination. Many have tried without much success. To find an answer we would have to look at something deeper – the evolution of management from the early uncertain days of the industrial revolution to the present day where all time honored rules of management are headed for a grand collapse (Nature’s Model). The clue lies there. 

This is how management always worked with minor and insignificant modifications here and there. 

It always started with a grand plan to make a profit. Don’t suspect that I am against ‘profit’ or like to label it as a dirty word. Far from it! Profits are needed. It is blood of an organization. Anyway, to chalk out the grand plan a few old men (only now it is fashionable to include a few women too) sat together in a room called the board room to come up with a ‘how to’ list of making money from an idea. We called that strategy.

Once that was framed the next question that plagued these old souls was how the hell do we organize ourselves and operate? They then came up with exotic game plans, choc-a-block with funny rules and regulations, making the entire organization ‘rigid’ (if not frigid) ‘air-tight’ and ‘water-proof’ — nothing can touch them, no secret can ever dream to escape, no employee can ever think of anything else but work, work and work…etc. They called it a ‘system‘.

With the system in place these grand old people heaved a sigh of relief. Half the job is done. Now we need some ‘dedicated’, ‘loyal’, ‘trusted’ servants (whoops! employees) to work their grand design called the system to their heart’s content to churn out money. The model was no different to the ‘factory model’. Pop in something and out pops something else from the other side of the machine.

Same was in business. So they carefully selected the ‘servants’ to work for them and just like selecting good machines they looked hard for the desired attributes for doing the back breaking jobs — is he/she strong, healthy, good looking, has the right attitude??? (still couldn’t figure out how they measure that), background, education blah blah blah… . They would take all pains just the way they would to pick the best variety of apples from the marketplace. It had to be rigorous since the ‘chosen ones’ like gladiators, would have to sweat it out for them in the next 2 to 3 decades.

But soon they found out that attributes of people change over time. They were not “behaving” like the machines they thought they got with so much rigor and patience. They started asking for things that weren’t promised when they got in. That was something to worry about. What made them most worried was when they started thinking and suggesting and voicing their opinions on how to go about their jobs and perhaps how to do them better.

That wasn’t good news to their old hardened ears. They have to stop them thinking. They are to be aligned to the goal of the organization. They are to be kept in line and on their toes. And they are to be occasionally whipped when they break rules or ranks to show who is the master and the lord that provides them their humble bread.

In comes the Human Resource Department, a sobriquet for the old fashioned Time Office and Personnel Department, whose only job was to keep employee behavior in check. Keep them in line. Indoctrinate them. Inject them with the lovely tunes of loyalty, feel good factor with a good day’s job. Give them some butter if they do too well….. Spend time to correct the behavior of people not to say that a good amount of time, energy and resources went into managing work that consumed a large extent of people’s productive time.

And what might happen when strategy, systems and behavior of people are all lined up? It would create work that produced goods and services of some value to thousands of customers. So a classic division was formed — a small group of producers and an ever increasing group of consumers. More the consumers merrier the game became. All that  management had to do was to ensnare more and more consumers in their net and keep looking for more. The word was ‘marketing’. 

This way of operating could be done for a pretty long time. All that was needed to keep this well structured machinery running was a pot of gold. Deeper the pockets better was the show which people thought would be perpetual in nature. At last management was able to create a perpetual machine that defied all known natural laws.

Did they? No. By 2008 everything that was so sacrosanct and held in high esteem started to disintegrate with the coming of the great recession. Big and seemingly invincible companies folded up. Unemployment kept rising. No new jobs could be created. Businesses faltered. And those that existed counted their days to doom.

The old way of functioning was definitely clumsy, complex, rigid and unmanageable that not only provided very little value to customers but also wasted a lot of energy in managing and keeping the system in order.

What traditional businesses failed to notice were the slow changes happening all around them in other spheres of human activities (Post Offices to #SM). Things were changing. And so did the nature of work. The fundamental change was consumers became producers and were blurring the line between producers and consumers. It happened to Post Offices, Schools, Publishing business, Consulting, Telephones, and was quickly spreading to all human activities in ways people would  have never imagined even a few years back.

The consumers created their own value independently and interacted and shared it with their network to create more value and consume it themselves at a price much less than the prevailing market price. The days of grand old institutions, middle men, dealers, publishers, advertisers were all but over.

In comes a new thinking and a new way to create and manage businesses and a lot of value  — the answer to Rahul’s nightmare.

The earlier model, basically static in nature and greatly determined by financial capital, was Strategy — Systems — Behavior — Work — Value.

In this model, Strategy informed the nature of work and the value that was created for the customer.

The new model is just the reverse of what we knew for so long. What happens when we reverse it? It becomes Value — Work — Behavior — Systems — Strategy. 

In this new model, ‘Value‘ and ‘Work‘ inform Strategy not the other way around. Therefore, it is more dependent on people including customers to participate, share and contribute their learning and knowledge in the economic process than being exclusively dependent on the strength of financial capital.

So, what might be the challenges for organizations to embrace the new way of working?

Some of these are:

1. How do we involve and engage customers and employees to participate in the ‘value’ creation process to create ‘multiple values’ instead of only focusing on the goal of generating profits (single value)?

2. How do we make ‘work’ observable and tractable from which everything else emerges?

3. How do we create a platform of emergent learning that spontaneously creates ‘leaders’ who co-produce wealth not spawn ‘servants’, ‘managers’ and ‘bosses’ who run the systems like mere cogs in the wheel?

Now that we have found the answer to Rahul’s nightmare answers to these challenges would help him create simple yet intelligently superior and greatly adaptable organization that creates multiple values for the collective.

For Rahul his ghastly nightmares would be over. But he would now have more things to challenge his mind, which would surely be fun since he may now keep thinking while doing the new thing, learning and improvising as he goes along in his new journey.

He is well on his way creating history.

Wish him well!

But do ask me how history is being created.



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