Friday, February 23, 2020

Stepping through the looking glass

It’s long past time to try something new in management

Management today is mostly based on standard responses to problems. But like Alice, stepping through the looking glass into a wonderland on the other side, it’s always open to us to consider what might happen if we didn’t follow the set path, but broke out into fresh ideas and opportunities.

Suppose that we implemented the opposite of today’s standard management responses? What kind of business world might lie on the other side of the looking glass? Would it be a wonderland of untapped potential, or a wasteland of risk and problems? Let’s take a look.

Gone would be the cramping over-emphasis on instant results and avoidance of risk. No one was ever inspired to great ideas or endeavors by thinking only about immediate or short-term practicality. Only idealism ever inspires. That’s why corporations that favor idealism over pragmatism produce more innovative, more inspiring, and more motivating ideas. Pragmatism is fine for second-rate businesses handling commodity products, but that route will never win long-term market leadership. Visionary companies, and leaders with a fierce resolve to implement those visions, consistently win over the long haul.

If we want people to look to the long-term for their returns, we have to offer the kind of security and support that warrant their trust.

On the other side of the looking glass, organizations would retain key employees with long-term rewards, such as development, security, and opportunities for personal growth; not just short-term ones like bonuses and stock options. Where employees have learned to distrust the long-term security of their employment, they will always demand large rewards now as insurance against future lay-offs. If we want people to look to the long-term for their returns, we have to offer the kind of security and support that warrant their trust. The corollary of this must be that consistent, long-term performance would be seen as more valuable than quick wins (and long-term losses).

The more the demand grows for quick, measurable results, the more our aims become distorted to give only these—even if it hurts the organization’s interests in the longer term. Creativity and long-term potential is worth so much more than merely current performance. Instead of paying reluctantly to try to deal with any present performance shortfalls, which are only the symptoms of some underlying malaise, through-the-looking-glass organizations would go straight to the fundamental drivers of excellence: being trusted to do your job, set in the right role, given the right support, and allowed the freedom to contribute freely whatever gifts you can bring to your work. A group of free people, having fun and acting together out of choice and shared beliefs, will always outperform pressed labor and those whose loyalty and interest goes no further than the salary check.

Most management is still based on the underlying assumption of a “master” stipulating what the “servants” must do and judging them according to their performance against his or her imperious standards.

This is not the way to promote creativity, learning, or fun in the workplace—let alone real productivity. Leadership of this kind is always ‘us’ versus ‘them’: the expert leader instructing the ignorant subordinate and demanding compliance. Yet compliance never produces better than mediocre performance. None of us can do anything well if our hearts are not in it. Real achievement only comes about when people engage in an act of free will—an act with joy and passion—by choosing to thown themselves wholeheartedly into their work and seeking to understand what will improve their output, knowledge, or skill the most. Our public schools should have shown us all that when alienated pupils withdraw their consent to work and learn, no amount of discipline or teaching produces any result at all.

Our organizations and its leaders, like our society, have a long history of trying to deal with problems by coercion of one kind or another—legislating against them, or trying to drive them out of existence, instead of exploring to understand what produced the problems in the first place and continues to sustain them. At best, this drives problems underground; at worst, it gives them something to push against to build up their muscles. We need at long last to understand the total futility of this kind of behavior.

I shall be away until early March, so posting will be more intermittent than usual, as my access to the Internet will be sporadic at best. Please be patient and things will return to normal in about 10 days or so.

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Prospero said...

An interesting perspective, which chimes with recent disquiet in the UK about private equity firms who can appear to be interested in short term profit above all else, maximising assets rather than building businesses for the future.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous said...

i agree

8:28 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, guys.

9:00 AM  
Doug said...

I have been making myself crazy looking for a book or information that relates to this post. I think I saw the original info on this blog,or maybe not. Of course I have forgotten where I saw it.
There was a post or comment about a South American Business man. His company is managed as described above. People volunteer for projects, projects can be dismissed by democratic vote. The company has record profits. I believe the name of the company begins with 'N'.
The entrepreneur wrote about about how the company is managed. Can anyone point to the book.

Actual comment begins here.
This all relates to the way google is managed. People can change projects at any time. A bad project is probably a bad idea. If the engineers don't want to work on it will the market love it? I doubt it.
It also relates to the ideas of Milton Freedman. There was a great PBS documentary on the Nobel winning economist. He was a major influence in getting an all volunteer army. The idea being that volunteers work harder than conscripts.
A very interesting confluence of ideas.

11:34 AM  
ewH said...

Sometimes I like to print off articles or blogs, highlight the interesting and pertinent sections, and then hang them on the cubicle wall for others to read. However, in this particular post, I would have to just print it out on yellow paper to include the entire content. Great post!


11:57 AM  
Martin Koser said...

Hello Doug,

I think you're thinking of Ricardo Semler of the brazilian company Semco ... he has written some books indeed, you may refer to "The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works"

And I've got another businessman in mind that shows extraordinary leadership skills (and sensibility for these complex systems we call organizations ...): the CEO of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard.

Kind regards from Germany, Martin

5:44 PM  
Doug said...

Yes that is it! Thank you, thank you.
It was like an itch in my brain I could not scratch!

1:28 PM  

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