Regularizing the Irregular

By Allan Alter  |  Posted 09-13-2007 Print Email

The great accomplishment of management was to take irregular activities and regularize them by establishing protocols, standards, and discipline. When you look forward to this new century, discipline, great execution and efficiency are still going to be important, but they are not the high-value problem for an organization. How you are going to become more adaptable so you don't have to go to the typical valley-of-theshadow- of-death crises to set your company on a new course? How would you exploit the imagination of every employee every day?

The focus of the traditional management model was on steadily optimizing a business system for efficiency. But what often happened in that optimization process is that the company became less and less adaptable. We really wanted employees who are largely drones. We didn't want people who were free spirited. Modern management drove out of most organizations precisely the kinds of qualities that are going to be so essential in this new century. Today, most companies are less adaptable and less innovative than the people who work for them.

We live in a world of Googlers and bloggers and mashers and podcasters. And yet at work, our management system literally bleached those qualities out of people between the hours of 8 and 5. Why are our organizations less human than the people who work there?

What will the new approach to management look like?

It has yet to emerge. But it is important to remember that the management system we have [today] evolved over a period of decades. There is a set of new problems for which old management is clearly not adequate. There is a new set of tools that will allow us to manage in ways that we never could before, and a lot of those tools obviously are based around the Web.

If you think about management in the simplest way, it's about doing two things. One is to amplify human capability and to get people the tools that allow them to achieve more than they otherwise could. The other is aggregating human capability. How do you put together the efforts of the individuals so they can do collectively what they couldn't do individually?



 

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