Management thinking is inherently faddish, but there are some perennial favourites that never fall out of favour. Innovation is one those evergreen themes: it is a rare CEO who doesn’t list innovation as one her top four or five priorities.
Here is a tricky question: How many living management gurus can you name who did not learn their trade in North America? I have asked many colleagues this question, and it's pretty hard to come up with a good list. For example, consider the individuals in last year's "Thinkers 50" ranking list. By my reckoning, there are only seven who make the cut: Richard Branson (Virgin), Kris Gopalakrishnan (Infosys), Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrale (Stockholm School of Economics), Lynda Gratton, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (London Business School).
Does this matter? I think it does.
In the years following the Second World War, the United States dominated the global business world completely--it was the major source of capital, the home of advanced manufacturing, and the source of most major technological developments. It provided the best quality management education, and it was the source of all the latest management thinking.
Today, we live in a more complex, more plural world. The US is now the world's largest debtor nation, and the biggest sources of capital are the large Sovereign Wealth Funds of the Middle East, Russia and China. Leadership in advanced manufacturing is spread across such countries as...
We all know that big, established companies struggle to respond to "disruptive" change. Blockbuster, HMV, Nokia, and Yahoo! are all current examples of companies that are struggling with this problem--they are trying to adapt, but are being held back by powerful and often invisible inertial forces.
A recent example of corporate inertia really struck home, and got me thinking about the key role management processes play in preventing change.
In October 2010 I agreed to do a Webinar for a big book publisher. I have done half-a-dozen webinars before, typically for small companies with a subscription-based business model. The process looks like this: they email me, I agree to do it, we arrange a date 2-3 months out, we do a quick technology check the week before, and then the event happens. It is all very easy for me, lecturing to an unseen audience in my own office. Frankly, I am not sure how much the audience gets out of these events, and indeed I sometimes wonder how many people are actually listening. But that is a question for another day.
The process with the publisher was rather different. The person I was talking to suggested a...
What would it look like if the rapidly-evolving social world of Web 2.0 collided with the sterile and static corporate Intranet? What would happen if information flowed from the outside in, instead of inside out?
Those are the questions at the heart of an interesting experiment unfolding at global consulting firm Capgemini .
A few years ago, in response to disruptive changes in its operating environment, Capgemini began experimenting with Yammer , a private and secure enterprise social network that allows employees to hold conversations, read posts, and actively collaborate with their co-workers in real-time. Chief Technology Officer Andy Mulholland says that activity is feeding the "collective consciousness of the 20,000 people who subscribe to Yammer internally."
Yammer is decentralising the information flow at Capgemini to create greater collaboration from the outside in. Far-flung IT consultants who work at client locations around the world make up about half of the firm's 110,000-person workforce. Those "edge-dwellers" are the most active users of Yammer. They're using it as a tool to help them deal with the variability they encounter in the field and to do more by tapping into a corporate knowledge bank in real time....
Employee engagement is, as they say, a no-brainer. There are stacks of literature showing that companies with committed employees who feel strongly about their organization do better financially than those with indifferent employees. In many cases, too, improvement is actually quite easy to achieve.
Large numbers of employees work in silos, with deep functional expertise but no line of sight to the person ultimately buying their product. Yet it turns out that exposure to customers can be a powerful source of insight and motivation.
That is what pharmaceutical giant Roche found when a team devised an experiment to put the engagement proposition to a test. But, in the end, it wasn't quite as simple as that.
The Roche team realized it would be easy to get stuck at a high level of abstraction in a study of this type, so they focused on a simple straightforward hypothesis: that a deeper emotional understanding of the company's real value to patients and society would deliver extra engagement among employees .
Now, the team believed its employees were already engaged...
One of the key tasks of management is coordinating activities--making sure the right people are working on the right projects at the right time. Most companies default to a top-down allocation system: people are put on projects according to availability, favouritism, or sometimes, pure luck. That's reasonably efficient, but the result is some lucky folks get all the exciting projects, some get stuck on a project-from-hell forever, and some never get a chance to prove themselves.
Some companies, such as Eden McCallum , the London-based strategy consultancy, have experimented with a virtual-company model in which they act as the brokers between freelance project staff on one side and clients on the other. It's a clever approach, but it provides no guarantee of work for the freelancers; and it is hard to scale, because it relies on the team in the middle making a high-quality match between freelancer and client.
Another option is often called the "internal market," sitting somewhere between the traditional and the virtual models. On paper, the internal market sounds attractive: it combines the efficiency of the top-down model with the fluidity and sensitivity to employee needs of the virtual model....
If you are a regular reader of the MIX, you probably already have a point of view on the future of management. Indeed, the MIX was created to help accelerate the evolution of management, so chances are you have already bought into the argument that we are going through a period of upheaval that will transform the way we work in organizations in the years ahead.
I hope and believe this argument is right. And in future blog posts on this site I will discuss examples of some of the changes in management that are currently underway. But let me develop a contrarian line of argument first, before offering a synthesis.
Here's the problem with all this talk of virtual and networked organizations, and this vision of empowered and engaged employees. We see the massive changes underway in technology and connectivity, and we assume that these changes will drive change in how we work. The trouble is, previous generations went through the same process. In the late 1990s, commentators talked about the emergence of the ICE age, where ICE was an acronym for "the Internet Changes Everything." In the early 1980s, the business world was...
When you ask children what they want to be when they are older, how many of them say they want to be a manager? I've certainly never met one who had such aspirations. In part this is because management is a pretty amorphous concept to a ten-year-old. But it's also because we adults aren't exactly singing the praises of the management profession either. For example, in a 2008 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics among workers in 21 different professions, a mere 12 percent of respondents felt business executives had high/very high integrity--an all-time low. With a 37 percent low/very low rating, the executives came in behind lawyers, union leaders, real estate agents, building contractors, and bankers. Moreover, there are no positive role models out there either - the reason why Dilbert is the best-selling business book series of all time, and why Ricky Gervais' sitcom "The Office" was a big hit, is because they ring true. The Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert is a self-centered halfwit; David Brent is entirely lacking in self-awareness. If these are the figures that come into people's minds when the word "manager" is used, then we have a serious problem on our hands.
One enduring change in the management lexicon brought about by the dotcom revolution was the term business model —how a firm makes money. The concept had been in existence for decades, but the competition between "old" and "new" economy firms, with very different business models, helped to demonstrate its importance as a way of thinking about the basic choices firms make when it comes to their sources of revenue, their cost structure, and their make-or-buy options.
In the post-dotcom era, firms have continued to experiment with new business models, with some success. But genuinely new business models are hard to come by, and they aren’t as easily defended as they once were. Firms are therefore on the lookout for new forms of competitive advantage—they are looking for sources of distinctiveness that are enduring and hard to copy.
One intriguing possibility, as suggested by many of the company stories described in the MIX, is the idea that a firm’s Management Model can become a source of advantage. In fact, I would suggest that asking, "What is your Management Model?" is almost as important as asking "What is your business model?"