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Can Agile, Liberated Organizations Succeed in Overturning the Status Quo?

To be an idealist is a great asset to the world as it takes a non-conformist to change the world. But the graveyard is full of – mostly young – idealists whose ideas fell victim to the harsh realities of the status quo they were (naively) trying to change.

The whole Agile Movement is an idealistic movement. A movement of smart people who want to change the way people collaborate into a more liberated, engaging and fundamentally more humane way. In this effort, the Agile Movement has much better chances to succeed than many other idealistic endeavors, as it appeals to the profit motive that is so predominant in today’s business world. The obvious success of Silicon Valley and those liberated ways of working provide companies with a justification to try those high minded agile management practices. In other words: The profit motive is a strong reason to embrace Agile.

But still, the odds are steep, and the fight will be one for generations. Let me explain why.

Being a Great Company is Optional

Peter Drucker listed the three things that a company really needs to be great.

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A company can only exist if it serves a customer need by supplying a product.  This is mandatory. In contrast to this, having a great company culture is helpful but not required to build products, good economic results or to simply survive as a company in the long run:

  • A company may survive quite comfortably for a long time if the competition is as badly organized as it is
  • A great culture improves the odds of building a great product, but you might end up with a great product just by chance even with a mediocre culture
  • The law of high numbers is at work here – provided that many try, some will get lucky

According to economic theory, competition will come in the long run and uproot the underperforming companies, simply because there is a profit to be made. This might be what is happening today in the digital revolution, but this process takes time.

The Status Quo is far from abdicating

Agile or Liberated companies (as I prefer to call them) have great working cultures. They are, therefore, systematically more likely to achieve great results than companies running a command and control model. But is that enough to win against the status quo en masse? Here are some reasons why the command and control paradigm might still win:

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  • More and more Start-ups are sold directly to corporate investors. Mostly, they become a part of the established way of doing business thereafter
  • Every generation, even the youngest, is still primed for command and control. The Education system is still built on conformity to hierarchical norms
  • The economy gets more and more geared towards monopolies or oligopolies. It is the very nature of the platform and digital economy that the winner takes all benefits (e.g. Amazon, Google, Facebook). By their very nature, the dominant strategy for monopolies and oligopolies is to exploit their customer, as this is a much safer way to compete than risky innovation
  • Income inequality and the rise of the new right in global politics (e.g. Trump, Brexit) and of autocratic leaders (Erdogan, Orban, Al-Sissi, Putin) will not leave economic structures of the companies unaffected. With the suppression of free speech in the political realm, facts becoming optional alternative facts and filter bubbles companies will not be able to hold a space for truthful and open speech, two core pillars of liberated companies in jeopardy
  • The prevailing mindset today is that of shareholder value, which is centered on making profits no matter what while still being legally compliant. With Liberation, managers got to pick up a trick: In order to achieve profits, it is better to approach the profit target indirectly,  obliquely: Do not go directly for the Sale or the cost cutting but manage by values. Sales and efficiency will follow.

In total: Not a pretty picture- the Imperial forces are strong, young padawan.

What can be Done?

The most often heard criticism of Liberated Companies is that it takes an enlightened benevolent dictator for it to succeed. A leader who holds the space for the values of the Agile Manifesto, for the 10 Habits of Liberated Companies and who allows people to implement Agile management practices.

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That kind of leader is hard to find. Plus, an organization running on liberal principles is inherently unstable, once its top leader changes (or changed her mind). This instability is even greater in Liberated Companies than in Command & Control Companies. Things like trust, open speech and individual autonomy and freedom to act are very fragile things, time-consuming to grow and very easily destroyed. In contrast to this, command and control organizations are much more stable: Everyone knows the rules, the direction might change with a new leader but the way work is done is almost never changing to a significant extent. People might need to learn a new trick to please their superior, yes. But not much more.

As long as there are private property rights, people remain entitled to run their companies (or delegate running their companies) the way they or the stock market wants. This won’t change over a foreseeable period.

Hold the space, young Padawan

Let me explain why I still think that liberation is worthwhile:

  • Every period of Liberation is likely to produce superior economic results
  • Everyone involved in a Liberated Organization picks up skills and mindsets, that will make it easier to work on a higher level for her at any point in time in the future
  • With every agile practice the DNA, the organizational memory of the Organization, evolves. A part of this DNA might become inactive for a time, but it can be reactivated

Meanwhile, we Corporate Rebels, Management 3.0 enthusiasts or Holacracy champions, need to work on achieving a tipping point. There definitely is momentum for Liberation within even the conventional business community, and the Liberation movement is getting at least nearer to a Tipping point:

  • There are more and more important multipliers embracing the values of Liberated Organizations, like for example Management Thinker Gary Hamel or Microsofts CEO Satya Nadella.
  • The staying power of the leading figures (e.g. Brian J. Robertson, Jurgen Appelo or Frederick Laloux) is strong and their number of energized followers is expanding
  • Liberated Organizations have all the hallmarks that deliver a deep sense of motivation to individuals: Innovation, Self-Fulfillment, Human Betterment and even Profits and Efficiency – what a package!

This package might feel too good to be true. But many inventions made people feel that way. Liberated Organizations are a social invention. Social inventions take more time than technical inventions to take root. But it might propel humans to new heights by enabling humanity to use our collective intelligence more systematically than ever before.

So young Padawan: Hold the space.  Embrace an Agile Mindset. Fill organizations with the 10 Habits of Liberated Organizations. Management Practice by Management Practice.

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This what I think. What do you think?

Sources:

Let a Thousand Nerds Blossom!

Granted, liberating companies is the way to go in this Digital Age. For-profit, for innovation, for resilience, for the liberation of people – whatever – pick your motive. But how to pull off the Liberation? I think you need to weave your revolutionary tapestry of actions using 6 steps.

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Step 1: Plan & Adjust

The target is to build a high-performance organization, one that lets people engage and brings out their talents for the benefit of the organization and themselves.

The first step is to plan out this journey. I suggest planning on three levels: Mindsets, Habits, and Practices.

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You start with describing the Mindset the organization should show, according to the situation the business is in and where it (probably) needs to go. Next, you break these high-level mindsets down into a list of principles. A principle is a basic idea or rule that explains or controls how something happens or works. While coming up with principles, you will need to address each of the ten habits of liberated organizations and determine where your organization will take a stand, as explained in The 10 Habits of Liberated Organizations.

The third step is a bit easier, as it is more analytical: Choose the first set of liberated Management Practices that are by the principles. By practicing these new ways of engaging people, the organization and will work itself into a new mindset.

A word of caution: Do not copy any existing approach: Creating a learning organization requires building an agile mindset which can only be learned step by step. If you choose to copy an approach, chances are you, and your organization won’t be ready enough to sustain it.

By embracing new, agile, liberated management practices the final goal is not the practice. These will change and morph. All practices are just a way to create an agile mindset. Gaining a Growth Mindset is what a Learning organization is all about.

The important thing is:

  • Plan for the Mindset and the Principles you think your organization needs to embrace
  • Then, choose the first set of Liberated Management Practices that support those Principles and Mindset
  • Try out and implement those Liberated Management Practices.

Do not approach the new mindset directly, like a traditional change management effort would.

Instead, approach it from an oblique angle: An organization will work itself into a new mindset over time

 

Step 2: What to Liberate (next)?

Start with what you have and let it grow.  The “Capability Maturity Matrix for Liberated Organizations” might provide you with some orientation.

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Pick any of these dimensions or combinations as your next target. Then, pick some concrete Agile Practices to make the make the transformation tangible.

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Step 3: Decide on the Angle of Attack

Now that you know what to liberate, determine how to do that. Typically, in best piece by piece”elephant-eating” manner, some parts or practices of organizations go first, while others continue to operate as before.

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You may choose to approach the liberation from multiple angles. For example by selecting a unit that advances in their management practices, while the whole organization is just trying out – for instance -new ways of meeting or delegating. Or you might set up a community of interest who act as change agents in whatever parts of the organizations they happen to be, and let them conduct experiments of their own choosing. Every approach is valid, every combination can be helpful, according to local circumstances. To know more, have a look at Joost Minaars Post on Corporate Rebels.

But do yourself a favor and choose units or practices that face off to customers. These might be external or internal customers, it doesn’t matter. By making the Liberation outward looking you will achieve:

  • Much more significant business impacts, as most value is created on the interface with customers
  • much more sticky results, as chances are that the customer will like what the new way to collaborate
  • that the Liberation initiative has a lower chance to bog down and degenerate into just another corporate meta-exercise: Well meant, but not crucial. The Management fad du jour that may be ignored.

Step 4: Establish a clear Schwerpunkt

Now that you know what and where to attack, muster your forces and concentrate them with explicit focal attention on the point of decision. In other words, don’t do a bit of all, instead do a few things that really matter, decisively.

What is decisive in a Liberation? Well, as in any other Revolution it is getting to the Tipping point: Making people stand up for the new status and sweep away the status quo. Create a momentum that makes the Liberation self-sustaining. Luckily, Malcolm Gladwell as some advice for this.

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Here is some guideline how to set a Schwerpunkt in an organizational transformation:

  1. Set the Schwerpunkt where decisive results can be expected. The stronger the business need or historical trend or chance, the better.
  2. Do not try to energize any groups with more than 150 people. The more anonymous the team gets – and it empirically research that people can not make that more than 150 somewhat meaningful relations –  the more energy will dissipate into the realm of corporate entropy. Keep the target population small, and the social dynamic will drive the change effort forward.
  3. Gather and keep a close circle of change agents nearby you. Focus your attention (and time!) on these promoters. Most valuable are people that are adept at connecting people with one another (“Connectors”), people that facilitate solutions (“Mavens”) and people adapt in convincing others (“Salesman”)
  4. Do whatever you choose to liberate in a high-quality fashion that captures hearts and minds of people. If working in the new liberated way creates new perspectives and experiences people will wake up, be energized and become promoters of the liberation effort themselves

Seeing the liberation as an exercise to create a “tipping point” is important. Other, more traditional change management practices won’t help much. After all, it’s a social movement that needs to strive towards these new ways to run a company. There are no things like command, control or cozying up to please the boss. Agile practices will always fail if it fails to capture hearts and minds of people. Agile is, at its core, a mindset

Step 5: Coordinate your Forces

These days KANBAN is used to track all kind of things in the Lean or Agile Community. So why not using it to coordinate the evolution of Management practices. I developed such a board for a typical, traditionally run company.

  • Only Management practices are shown on this board. This includes Leadership practices and some HR practices (Development, Hiring) as well as some systems which main intent is to coordinate work (mostly Workflow Systems)
  • Each Card on the board shows one managerial practice. There can be some overlap between practices, as the components of the realm of management are not as simple to define. It is rather impossible to have practices defined in a mutually exclusive or a collectively exhaustive manner. Do not crazy in over defining. Embrace ambiguity instead.
  • Each column indicates which state a management practice is in. On this board, it’s either part of the organizational DNA or a new initiative which is somewhere on the horizon or something in the implementation

A Company Board of Managerial Practices

Have a look at an example. Maybe the kind of organizational DNA that this (actual) company has sounds similar to your (traditional) organization.

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As I worked to fill the board, I struggled to come up with new management initiatives that are currently being tried in this sample organization. It is actually quite shocking that nothing much is going on regarding new or revised management practices. Isn’t the digital revolution out there? Isn’t it time to raise hell and get the f..ck going with changing management and leadership practices? So why are so few things to be listed in the two leftmost columns?

I think the reason is that this company, and others, are first of all way to static in general (a result of the formalistic hierarchy) and second, companies tend to work on the wrong things. Lots of people still believe that digitalization is about fancy new IT Systems, so they are working on those, with lots of people and lots of time.  I think there are two reasons for this:

  1. To mistake Digitalization for IT is an easily understandable misperception. The deeper workings of Digitalization,i.e., experimenting, accelerating, making sense out of data, allowing failure, let a thousand Nerds blossom, sense-making which re-engages workers to the cause of the customer
  2. By spending all this money on Systems and Business Processes, no one is really threatened. The Internal hierarchy stays all the same. Noone needs to shift her or his mind to the digital age. Noone needs to change behaviors. Spending money is easy. Shifting Worldviews and Habits are hard.

But you know what? Revolutions are tough. And the Revolution is here and real. Now. So better get going.

Liberation Board

Here is what a Liberation Board for a progressive company could look like. This company does the hard but vital stuff and changes its managerial practices and (thereby) mindsets. This board is not based on a waterfall view of transformation (e.g., Plan, Implement, Operate), but on an evolutionary view of the company and its managerial practices: Practices are experimented with, modified until shelved or proven and then scaled.

libboard.pngBy viewing managerial practices as evolutionary results that may stay, change or die according to the needs of an organization, the organization is transforming on its deepest level. The level that governs the relations between all people in the organization and its customers, too.

Any evolutionary learning model can be used for this. Kata‘s, the Deming PDCA Cycle or the OODA Loop. Personally, I favor that the OODA loop. The ODODA loop has been invented by John Boyd, a trainer of elite fighter pilots in the US Top Gun Program. And that alone makes it makes it my favorite. Deming (PDCA) and Taichii Ohno (Kata) were engineers. Nothing against engineers, but to pull off a corporate revolution, I am going with the fighter pilot.

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To learn more about the OODA loops origin, check out Taylor Pearsons Post.

Picturing the transformation on a Kanban Board has many advantages:

  • It visualizes status and progress
  • It communicates who is working on what
  • People can choose to volunteer to experiment or scale with this or that initiative. They do not necessarily need to be assigned
  • It helps to keep the number of changes (the WIP “Work in progress” under control)

Last, not least it spells out the organizational DNA explicitly. Of course, this requires a lot of openness, which is tough, as it lays open the hard assumptions that managers have about people: Tell me how you manage people, and I tell you what your attitude you have about them.

If a company is just beginning its journey towards liberation, there will be the natural and tactful tendency to sugarcoat things. After all, some kind of consensus needs to be built about the transformation of the company to a liberated model or organizing. You got to start somewhere, over time trust and openness, even when it comes to talking about weaknesses and vulnerabilities, will increase.

Step 6: Set-up Overwatch

The Liberation effort needs to be organized with a team driving it, and informed and active agents in the organization.

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Prepare

The first step is to prepare the cut-over, by deciding on the rationale and the scope of the overall liberation effort. Steps 1 to 6 of this post provide a good guideline for this.

Orient

Second, all colleagues need to be involved. They need to understand that they, from now on and more and more, are invited to work in a different, more liberated manner. To list the current management practices is a good starting point.

Next, make clear what the limits are. Some practices like negotiating salaries or significant investment decisions might not be on the list of practices to liberate. Designate the practices that may be liberated if people choose to do so.

Not only the choice which practices to liberate is up to the colleagues. They need to have a say if a unit wants to transform certain or any management practices at all.  Pushing down management practices on people is likely to be counterproductive: Enforced liberation is tyranny. People need to actively opt for liberated practices.

Start

After co-workers have understood the intention of the Liberation effort and their unusual strong say in this effort, compared with all other conventional corporate change initiatives, it is time to try out different liberated management practices. By doing this, people and the organizational units work themselves into new behaviors and mindsets. As a result of this, people start to experiment with more advanced practices and pull those inside the organization, too. A positive feedback loop will drive the revolution forward.

To have a dedicated transit team, that supports the rest of the organization in this, is very useful here. On the tool side, the Liberation KANBAN Board can be helpful in planning, monitoring and coordinating the effort.

Scale

To scale liberated management practices is unlike traditional scaling methods. Traditionally a standard is set for, let’s say the way a store operates or an IT system works. This standard “Template” of processes and systems is then trained and imposed on an increasing number of stores or business units. There is not much of a say that the targets of “Roll-outs” have.

To become a more liberated company by imposing things won’t work. Scaling liberated practices means to offer colleagues to come forward and drive things. It is an offer, that can be turned down. Naturally, there will be some units or groups of people who actively pull in new practices. If those are better than the old management practices, the chances are that more reluctant units will follow. This process might take months or even years, depending on the size of the company.

Develop

The final stage is not a static one. It is one where the company keeps on adapting to changing customer needs and the business environment. It is forever evolving through implicit or explicit experimentation (using, for example, the OODA Loop). It is forever seeking to learn and improve.

Let Thousands Nerds Blossom

The last sentence sounds like an incredibly high aspiration. But I am not saying that the company will forever optimize itself and find a new optimal state with every challenge thrown at it. That would be unrealistic since social forms of collaboration have a certain degree of stickiness, too. They won’t always be optimal. In many cases, they will just muddle through, just like hierarchies do.

But with the right degree of stewardship, a servant leader, a Gardner- like attitude to leadership, a lot of trust, that lets everyone open up and speak up, liberated companies will be much better positioned to deliver better business results in an ever-changing world.

After all, evolution is all about survival of the fittest. Dinosaurs had there time until some nimbler competitors took over. In a digital, knowledge-driven economy we need liberated organizations that let “A thousand Nerds blossom”.

This is what I think. What do you think?

Sources

 

The 10 Habits of Liberated Organizations

I must confess. I am a Nerd. A special type of Nerd. I am a Nerd in Organizations. I am captivated by the way organizations work, by the ways humans arrange themselves to collaborate with one another.

Like every Nerd, I think that my thing, “Organizing”, is the most important thing in the world. Let me explain why.

Like so many boys I liked adventures. While playing, listening, reading, or just imagining there were so many adventures to be found, everywhere. The biggest ones to me were the stories of conquest and mortal peril: The Legions of Caesar, Pirates, Prussia, the Byzantine Empire, Genghis Khans Hordes, Japanese Senguko Jidai or the two world wars – all stories. Or the epic business stories of the East India Companies, Apple, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, etc.

That fascination stayed with me until now. It just metamorphosed from a boyish adoration of heroes to a quest to understand the inner workings of the organizations.  After all, most great people could not achieve anything without great organization and management.

That’s why I want to share with you what I call the “10 Habits of Organization”. It took me 48 years, a couple of hundred books and a lot of reflection to identify them.

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A word about naming: Please not that I alternatively rfer to the “10 Habits” as “10 Wonders”, too.

I. The Habit of True North

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.13.06.pngSome think the power of a unifying vision lies in being a great motivator. I disagree. The motivational aspect of share vision is not what is really important in an organizational context. For organizations, the coordinating aspect of a vision has far greater usefulness.

Motivation is a fickle thing, as humans are fickle. Most of us can’t be Mother Theresa all the time. But if we fall on hard times and got to make difficult choices, a vision will help. Moreover, the vision will help us to predict how others in the organization will act.

There is the illusion that a monolithic vision of a company will suffice: The one sentence like Facebooks “connect the world” or Googles “organizing worlds information”. But it is much more important to break down the vision so that every unit has a purpose so that an organization becomes a purpose-driven organization:

The Habit of True North: A hierarchy of purpose helps to replace a hierarchy of coercion.

Yet most organizations neglect visions and thereby relegate themselves to “just another place to earn money.” A pity, as it prevents people from bringing out the best version of themselves.

Working on a vision is hard, and it needs to start at the top. It takes a disciplined visionary at the helm of the organization – a combination seldom found.

II. The Habit of Caring

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.15.20.pngThe deeper we dig in us, the more we know that everything that matters is what we do for others. This is no sentimental sentence of a Gutmensch (do-gooder), this is an empirical fact according to worlds longest running study performed at Harvard University.

The Habit of Caring: Give people something to care of, and they will care.

Give everyone a clear line of sight to the customer – no matter if external or internal customers. Give each individual the chance to make someone else happy.

III. The Habit of Teams

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.16.07.pngPsychology and Neuronal science have shown again and again how fallible the individual human mind is. Every one of us is so blinded by his senses, prejudges, moods, attitudes and the very mechanics of his brain. There is no way around that, no matter how hard we try.

But if we engage in open, mindful exchange with others and allow us and others to reflect, the team can produce results that far and reliably outstrip the results that anyone alone can do.

We are, especially in the western world, so enamored with the narratives of the lonesome hero, that we tend to trust individuals more to do great things than we trust teams -despite all empirical evidence.

The Habit of Teams: Truely united teams are the nucleus of high performance

The conventional management hierarchy fails to produce high performing teams. It does so systematically, as autocratic structures foster fear and dependence – which are poisonous to a teams performance.

But wait: More Teams means more meetings, right? Most of us hate meetings: A waste of time. But we might fail to realize that all that tedious meetings are just a symptom of the failure to lay the foundations of successful teamwork. Some of those foundations are trust, deep relationships, shared missions and a structured meeting format which allows everyone to participate and open up – not just the talkative ones.

Indeed, good teams will have fewer meetings, as they do not require them: They achieve their coordination by more personal, shorter and more meaningful exchange.

IV. The Habit of People

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.16.41.pngSince the eradication of slavery, the right of every adult to make her or his own decisions is right, front and center of our global culture. We trust individuals to make the right decisions every time, no matter if the individual takes up sky-diving or purchases a house for hundred thousand dollars, or opt for a facial tattoo. Go ahead, you are the master of your own fate!

But since the abolishment of the medieval menial service of farm hands, achieved in the industrial revolution, there remain basically two areas where humans are not trusted to make the right decisions. In the education system, and in companies people are subordinated to other persons. In exchange for regular pay, employees forego their right to make their own decisions.

This is, of course, an advance from slavery and menial labor, but still, people are not welcomed as adults in a company. With the signature of their work contracts, people enter organizations as kids, not as adults. Bosses can order people around like they are kids. And as kids employees try to please their parents, even if it means bending the truth.

Having a good “parent” in business is fantastic, but much rarer than in families. After all, the connecting tie is not one of blood but one based on an economic relationship between superior and subordinate. Cold hearted exploitation is often the result.

The Habit of People: Treat people like adults, and they will start to make adult decisions.

It’s not easy, but even in hierarchical organizations there are techniques to do that, see, e.g. 4 Steps to Release the Full Potential of Organizations.

V. The Habit of Freedom

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.17.19.pngRules and Policies stifle innovation. They restrict the freedom to act so much, that organizations may fall into sclerosis by entangling everyone in the organization in a byzantine web of bureaucracy.

It is as simple as that: Most company rules punish everyone for the misbehavior of the few. The more rules there are, the more loopholes there are, the more apparatchiks will prosper, and the less entrepreneurial an organization will be- but an Enterprise without Entrepreneurs in it should be a contradiction in terms.

The Habit of Freedom: If you want your company to fly, don’t lock everyone up in secure boxes.

Do not make a mistake to equate a company with a minimal number of rules to an Anarchy: As long as there is discipline, grown trust and shared values, the organization will be functional and innovative. Not just functional, as most hierarchies are.

VI. The Habit of Seeing

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.18.49.pngTake a step back and look at an organization. What do you see?

  • An Organization Chart showing a lot of boxes
  • People working in predefined jobs, doing their duty
  • Offices where people labor on their assigned tasks

This is all good and well for the industrial age, where work can be neatly parceled out to employees by all-knowing superiors. Efficiency dictated that the amount of information available to an employee is determined by what the employee needs to fulfill a job. To give more information was simply uneconomical.

The Habit of Seeing: Everything there is to know beats all you need to know.

Nowadays, in complex, ever-changing environments it’s more and more unclear what an employee needs to know to do a job. Even more important, research has shown time and again that good teamwork can only happen in an environment of mutual trust. Transparency, the pervasive availability of information to anyone, is creating trust, it is enabling decentralization of control and is enabling learning.

VII. The Habit of Learning

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.18.02Learning is the only sustainable competitive advantage there is. By now, this piece of wisdom might feel rather stale. So many companies have tried to become a “learning” organization – and so many failed.

Robert Kegan, a Harvard psychologist, and organizational researcher argues that much of these failures can be attributed to our lack of understanding of learning:

  • Learning happens not before or after the action, but primarily during the action
  • If we put feedback loops into every day to day activities, in an environment built on trust and openness, people will learn
  • Managers have to master pedagogy (techniques how to teach) and have a curriculum (whats useful to learn) in mind

The Habit of Learning: Saturate an organization with opportunities to learn and it will learn

People will not learn because they should. Some will want to learn. Other simply can’t avoid learning if nested in an organization where learning opportunity is abundant and embedded in every activity that they do.

VIII. The Habit of Gardening

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.19.18.pngDuring the last 100 or years, most managers have been thinking about themselves as problem solvers, with a heavy streak of day to day, “street-wise” (pragmatic), troubleshooting.

In a fast-moving, knowledge-driven economy, this self-view is fundamentally outdated. Now, decisions need to be made at the location of highest competence. They need to be made fast, on the spot. Therefore, a manager becomes both the designer of an organization and its caretaker and is less involved in the day to day actions.

In the words of Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO (which arguably is worlds most innovative organization): A Manager needs to become a Gardner.

The Habit of Gardening: Tend to an organization: Seed, water and protect it- and it will blossom.

Well, that’s a huge shift. From an all-knowing, often micro-managing decision maker to a Gardner that steps aside and lets ideas, people and finally business performance blossom. Many Managers won’t be able to do this shift, despite all evidence that the age of the servant leader has begun.

But do not mistake this for a green utopia. A Gardner arranges his garden for a purpose, and he cuts back rigorously if need be.

IX. The Habit of Exploration

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.20.48.pngIn today’s knowledge-driven economy, there is so much knowledge inside co-workers and so much data to be analyzed. Basically, making ever new hypothesis, trying out things, reflecting, revising the hypothesis and experimenting, again and again, becomes a core individual working technique rather than a high profile exercise of research teams.

Today, we are all explorers who try new things and are rewarded by our efforts. Just look at the way you are working on your smartphone. Chances are that the more you invest in getting to know its capabilities, the more personal utility you derive from the device. The quickest way to learn is to watch others and imitate their way of doing, for example, calling a taxi via uber or solving a tricky excel problem by finding a youtube tutorial.

Like it or not, we are all already explorers in today’s vast worlds of knowledge.

The Habit of Exploration: In a knowledge economy, everyone is an explorer.

The more everyone is stepping out of his daily work, explores, and brings home new nuggets of knowledge that are put to work in the local context, the better business performance will be.

X. The Habit of Practice

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.21.11.pngThe new, modern organization is a journey, not a destination. The speed of the journey will be determined by the quality of the practice. Willy-nilly adoption of this or that practice won’t achieve anything. What is called for is:

  • Deliberate practice
  • Encouragement to experiment & tolerance for failure
  • Iterative ways of working in small increments, in forever self-correcting feedback loops

The Habit of Practice: Organization is a journey that will go nowhere without value driven discipline.

Moreover, an Engineer-like (or should I rather say “Gardner-like”?) self-restraint in doing one thing after another without losing sight of the big picture. There is no point in expecting everyone to perform at stellar champions league level all of a sudden. It takes practice, blood, sweat, and tears to built great organizations.

But the discipline does not lie in slavishly following a method. The discipline must be in following the agile mindset and the values described in the 10 Habits.

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How to start

Seldom an organization will be able to follow all Habits of Organization. I suggest starting with aquiring at least one habit, as the benefits are immediate. Just pick one, any of the ten will do.

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Experience shows that work on the other habits will follow in due course: Go forward and allow – for example – more transparency and trust will likely increase, enabling more delegation and more autonomy.

I will elaborate how to start liberating in a later post. For now, have a look at 4 Steps to Release the Full Potential of Organizations.

A Wonder to Awe the World

There are few things that are more worth aspring to then to liberate people. Still,  the way we organize work today is build on – often mindless- subordination. This is one of the last left-over of the feudal and industrial age.

I think it’s time to move past that, by using the tail-wind of the digital age: The Economic results of Liberated Organizations are simply superior.

It all comes down to this: It makes a huge difference weather you just show up at work or you really engage in it.

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This is what I think. What do you think?

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Special thanks to Sketch Note Artist Yasmin Cordes of Sketchworks. I met Yvonne last year at Re:Publica in Berlin and she ventured her help in visualizing the concept. A pleasure to work with you, Yvonne!

The Liberated Organizations Canvas – A workshop tool to sketch directions for aspiring builders of wonderful Organizations

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