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Reinventing Management – Bureaucracy Must Die

This month’s Gifted Leaders e-Newsletter features an article by Gary Hamel from the MixMashUp Blog (November 7, 2014).

Highlights from the Article

Large organizations of all types suffer from an assortment of congenital disabilities that no amount of incremental therapy can cure. First, they are inertial. They seldom change in the absence of a crisis. Deep change, when it happens, is belated and convulsive, and typically requires an overhaul of the leadership team. There are few, if any, mechanisms that facilitate proactive bottom-up renewal.

Second, large organizations are incremental. Despite their resource advantages, incumbents are seldom the authors of game-changing innovation. It’s not that they discount the value of innovation; rather, their organizational structures and processes are inherently toxic to break-out thinking and relentless experimentation.

And finally, large organizations are emotionally sterile. Managers know how to command obedience and diligence, but most are clueless when it comes to galvanizing the sort of volunteerism that animates life on the social web. Initiative, imagination and passion can’t be commanded – they’re gifts. Every day, employees choose whether to bring those gifts to work or not, and the evidence suggests they usually leave them at home.

Most of the recommended remedies for these organizational disabilities are no more than minor tweaks. To build organizations that are fit for the future, organizations that are as nimble as change itself and where we inspire extraordinary contributions from all of our employees, we have to start by scrutinizing the architecture and ideology of modern management.

Most of us grew up in and around organizations that fit a common template. Strategy gets set at the top. Power trickles down. Big leaders appoint little leaders. Individuals compete for promotion. Compensation correlates with rank. Tasks are assigned. Rules proscribe actions. Managers assess performance. This is the recipe for “bureaucracy,” the pyramidal architecture of “command-and-control.” Based on the principles of unitary command and positional authority, it is simple, and scaleable. As one of humanity’s most enduring social structures, it is well-suited to a world in which change meanders rather than leaps. But in a hyperkinetic environment, it is a profound liability.

A formal hierarchy overweights experience and underweights new thinking, and in doing so perpetuates the past. It discourages dissent and breeds sycophants. You can’t endorse a top-down authority structure and be serious about enhancing adaptability, innovation or engagement.

So what’s the ideology of bureaucrats? Controlism. Open any thesaurus and you’ll find that the primary synonym for the word “manage,” when used as a verb, is “control.” “To manage” is “to control.” Unfettered controlism cripples organizational vitality. Adaptability, whether in the biological or commercial realm, requires experimentation – and experiments are more likely to go wrong than right. Truly innovative ideas are, by definition, anomalous, and therefore likely to be viewed skeptically in a conformance-obsessed culture. Engagement is also negatively correlated with control. Shrink an individual’s scope of authority, and you shrink their incentive to dream, imagine and contribute.

Make no mistake: control is important, as is alignment, discipline, focus, accountability and all the other liberty-limiting virtues so beloved by accountants and engineers – but freedom is equally important. If an organization is going to out-run the future, individuals need the freedom to bend the rules, take risks, go around channels, launch experiments and pursue their passions. Unfortunately, managers often see control and freedom as mutually exclusive – as ideological rivals like communism and capitalism, rather than as ideological complements like mercy and justice.

The most profound challenge facing 21st-century leaders can be simply stated: How to reap the blessings of bureaucracy – control, consistency and predictability – while at the same time killing it. Bureaucracy, both architecturally and ideologically, is incompatible with the demands of the 21st century.

Very few leaders are champions of bureaucracy, but neither are they actively pursuing an alternative. For too long we’ve been fiddling at the margins. We’ve flattened corporate hierarchies, but haven’t eliminated them. We’ve eulogized empowerment, but haven’t distributed executive authority. We’ve encouraged employees to speak up, but haven’t allowed them to set strategy. We’ve been advocates for innovation, but haven’t systematically dismantled the barriers that keep it marginalized. We’ve talked (endlessly) about the need for change, but haven’t taught employees how to be internal activists. We’ve denounced bureaucracy, but we haven’t dethroned it; and now we must.

Read the article here.

The Gifted Perspective

The data on employee engagement – which shows that the majority of employees are either minimally engaged or actively disengaged in their work – hasn’t really changed much for the last 50 years. It’s not that people don’t like their work. 85% are okay with the work that they do; the problem is in the way they’re managed.

Something needs to change! We need more than management. We need to embrace Gifted Leadership. David Marquet describes the required paradigm shift in this month’s featured video. We need to move away from the notion that leadership is about taking control and attracting followers and toward the reality that leadership, in essence, is about giving up control and creating leaders.

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