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This HBR article represents the ideas of 35 thought leaders brought together at a conference designed to "develop a bold agenda that would spur the reinvention of management in the 21st century." The conference adjourned with the assumption that management as we know it has been incrementally improved to the point of "its limits of improvement." And the assumption that management for the 20th century is also not going to be adequate in the 21st century world. I had been thinking about that recently, reflecting on my own 30 years of experience. Were my assumptions about how to lead organizations still relevant? Was I getting stuck?
It's a great question that every successful leader and organization asks every so often to avoid limited thinking, and past success bias. I do recommend buying this article and using it as a basis for a group conversation. I found myself nodding after each of the 'grand challenges' listed. Here is the one I want to emphasize:
"Fully embed the ideas of community and citizenship in management systems...In the future, management systems must reflect the ethos of community and citizenship, thereby recognizing the interdependence of all stakeholder groups." (pg 92)
One of the key questions within the body of theory of organizations is "what is the role of business within society"? The past 50 years has emphasized rewarding the shareholder first, even at the expense of other stakeholders and keeping business 'separate' from society other than those who hold a 'stake'. Taken to the extreme, this concept can result in salmonella in the peanut butter. On the other hand, an organization that does not make money can result in all stakeholders losing their 'stake.' That's been made painfully clear in the unemployment figures that seem to multiply daily. What seems untenable is to make 'retention awards' to 'keep the best people' while no one who made the bad decisions is held accountable. Where were those 'best people' when there have been so many mistakes made? Is this kind of system reflective of our community ethos? Is this the best we can be?
I agree with Thomas Friedman who wrote in his Feb. 15, 2009 op-ed, "...the world needs crazy ideas to change things, because the conventional way of thinking is not working anymore." I propose looking at what organizations 'could be' based on what they do well. I assume they do many things well however I'm not sure that many are looking beyond return on investment. I also propose we stop imitating the current top dog and look deeper into the role of collective groups of people working in the name of an organization and how they align with our community values. Instead of following 'best-practices' I think we should get creative about "what could be". Best practices imply repeating the past or just going one better. Incrementalism is just not going to take us where I believe we could go. Ask yourself, what does being a citizen of the world mean to me and how does my work reflect the community values?
In our current economic crisis, I'm thinking about this a great deal. My own company is finishing up its last printed thin book, one that takes the philosophy of Appreciative Inquiry and applies it to a strategic planning framework. It is the process that you can use to take your organization into dialogue about your strengths and 'what could be' to your actual strategy. The economics of print books has become unaffordable. No longer doing more print books does not mean I'm stopping my work. I'm just thinking about how I can work in the new mediums now available and how I can extend our current body of work to even more people. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. And a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. I'd love to hear what you think...
And back by request, StonesSpeak.net...healing crystals made into beautiful, wearable art on our website. It's a way for me to work in a very different medium. Now with free shipping & returns (U.S. only) through March!