The Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone. Management for change was fashioned long before someone had the idea to etch dutiful witticisms into books about leadership and communication. Leadership was needed before there was a need to call it leadership; change came before anyone saw it coming to embrace it; and there were managers before they knew to call themselves that. Pouring over the volumes of efforts written about change and management reveals a self-supporting structure of literature that has become its own cottage industry; writing and selling books about business is business. Modern management has mirrored this self-licking ice cream cone in many ways.
Essentially, management was concocted to solve two lurking problems: first, getting semiskilled employees to perform repetitive activities with some level of competency, diligence, and efficiency; and the second, according to Hamel (2009), was coordinating those efforts in various ways to enable some level of goods and services to be produced in large enough quantities to meet demand. Even the bands of silverback gorillas in the lowlands of Angola and the Republic of Congo have what they would call management (if they spoke). There is an alpha male leading the band; he is delegating the gathering food duties, protective duties, marking (and grasping new) territories, and keeping subordinates in line. As it has been for hundreds of years, in all its shapes and forms (and species), management maintains its own importance to solve two things: efficiency and scale. Just as true, the solution management brings to the table is usually bureaucracy and its collection of hierarchical structure, cascading goals (what interests my boss, fascinates me), precise roles and rank designations among the workers, and intricate rules and oft-ridiculous procedural expectations. For the Gorillas, objecting with management can lead to violent consequences; the Darwinian roots of management can still be seen in the US Military today.
Human History Takes a New(er) Course. The historical trusses that still tether management to multiple-problem single-solution mantras are decades old (Hamel, 2009). Management’s dilemma has not been that there was not enough hierarchical structure, directions, paperwork, procedures, mission statements, presentations, or reports to read, present, and file about future plans. The problem has been that there was/is too much of these; and, though seemingly essential to process-management, many of these processes were invented for the business-place of the early 20th century (and before). Even a token reviewing of modern business literature in change management reveals that the fundamental breakthroughs in management occurred before today’s workforce of leaders and mangers were even alive. Ironically, change management has not changed.
“Work flow design, annual budgeting, return on investment analysis, project management, divisionalization, brand management - these and a host of other indispensable tools have been around since the early 1900s” (Hamel, 2009, p. 91). In fact, foundations of modern management were poured (like concrete) by old names still echoed today as the cutting-edge architects of industry: Daniel McCallum, Henry Ford, and Dick Drew (3M, 2010; Hamel, 2009). That was a long time ago; Dick Drew was born in 1899 and McCallum and Ford were both born before the end of the Civil War in 1865!
Stratford-Upon-Avon Knew First. The idea is not new. The evolution of management reads like a classic Shakespearian tale with a relatable hero who has a tragic (if not kismet) flaw. Ultimately, even with all his or her good intentions in play, Shakespeare’s hero still meets an epic doom, refusing to recognize the cause of his or her peril. Not to drag the metaphor past curtain-call, but one may notice also that in Shakespearian literature the jester is always free to speak the truth and explain the difficult concepts to the audience while trying (without success) to explain them to the protagonist. The jester is never taken seriously, but is the only true prognosticator for characters (and therefore the audience). Management is like this, a well-meaning hero with a tragic flaw and ever dismissive of the lowly jesters (subordinates). Signs and signals on how to redirect and recreate in the changing environment surround modern management, but like King Lear, many refuse to see the truth being told again and again.
Illusion of Control. Hamel (2009) explains that management over the last century has traced a classic S-curve shape. Students of innovation will quickly recognize Dick Drew’s incredible work in the beginning with 3M (3M, 2010), or Henry Ford’s assembly-line breakthroughs. With these men in place and countless other innovations in the early 20th century, one has to admit management and leadership were off to a quick start; and so the curve shot up. The pace of innovation gradually decelerated as demand for change (or willingness to accept it) slowed; and the curve swallowed out.
Modern principles of management are still caged in the (now seemingly ancient) belief that to lead is to control. That is, management wants to control the flow of everything from traffic into the parking lot, to goods along the assembly line, ideas in the boardrooms, to the face (or reputation) of the company by controlling information about it, to even controlling the communications in the break room (see also: banning social media, intra-rank interactions, and pre-historic fraternization policies). In the very-timely words of the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Roughhead, a near public rebuke of previous policies, he advises: “[F]or leaders in hierarchical organizations, there may be some anxiety about giving up control of your message by acknowledging the potential of your workforce to communicate. [We must] separate from the technical concerns about things like network security, this is a concern over losing exclusive rights to your brand, your image, or what might people say about your organization. But in today’s media environment of user-generated content, control is an illusion. The organization’s voice is just one of many consistently touching on subjects of core interest to its identity and activities. In acknowledging that reality, it would be a strategic error of the most basic nature to not do everything you can to empower your workforce to communicate on behalf of the organization.” (Roughhead, 6 June 2011).
New Truth, New Requirements
Righteous Indignation. Kukalis (2009) concludes that, in order to survive (to get the S-curve moving up again), strategy managers need to re-assess their traditional planning processes. Managers who want their companies to survive (not just themselves) must first admit that they have pushed the limits of the originally created management-through-control model. The aging industrial age prototypes erected on the (metaphorically) concrete “principles of standardization, specialization, hierarchy, control, and primacy of shareholder interests” (Hamel, 2009, p. 92) are over. Leadership must face the grim fact that today’s business essentials live in a more abstract realm than the predicable (read: easily controllable) venues of in-place bureaucracy-infused management insistences. While recent political, economic, social, and world events may have had little impact on the macro day-to-day operations of many companies, they have made a huge impact on management planning and (re)recognizing the value of human capital. This segue from an industrial economy to digital economy may have been subtle to some, but it rang like the bells of Notre Dame to others. Management either caught this shift, or did not. It is not too late for those who missed the first salvo of change to prepare for the next.
Hamel (2009) writes, “What’s needed is a little righteous indignation. Why, for example, should it take the blunt instrument of a performance crisis to bring about change? Why should organizations be so much better at operating than they are at innovating? Why should so many people work in uninspiring companies? Why should the first impulse of managers be to avoid the responsibilities of citizenship rather than to embrace them?” (p. 92). Indeed. What is in order is a shift in thinking and style the size and scope of which would equal the advances of the first innovations in management found at the start of the industrial era, this must, by necessity equal the shape of the first S-curve’s up-tick to be relevant (Kukalis, 2009).
New Agenda - Old Material
Too often leaders, especially in the military, are far too eager to codify best practices instead of looking for the most effective practices. The remarks by Admiral Roughhead (the Boss of everyone in the Navy’s Boss) at the Institute for Public Relations Strategic Communications Summit on June 6th, 2011, hinted at just such a rebuke of his staff (everyone in the Navy). That is, in an effort to keep the ice cream cone tasty, leadership (and its supporting cast) anxiously apply new toppings and layers to the in-place system in order to keep it moving, silent, salient, attractive, easy, and digestible. This practice completely ignores the appetite for change demanded by the employee base (young, intelligent, socially-connected Sailors and their families), from the modern global and national markets (suppliers and end-users), and the public’s demand for services (dynamic and instant disaster relief, freedom of the seas, anti-piracy, anti-terrorism, etcetera). We can do better than that.
As the future appears to become more difficult, it is only justifiably so if one continues to use the lens of the past through which to view it. As stated in the courseware, the new millennium has brought on new conditions that necessitated new planning and other management processes. The massive managerial advances (known as the reengineering or re-structuring era) brought about in the 1990s, then quickly overshadowed by the collapse of the dot coms, then September 11, 2001, then the Wars, and then more terrorism, then hurricanes, then earth quakes, then more typhoons, then killer tsunamis, and then… and then (and on)… Again, change is not coming, change is happening; we must adapt with it, as part of it, not to it (as a third-party reactive participant).
We must shift our focus from the future (avoidable possibilities) tense to the present (what we have now and how to work with it) tense. A massive shift in thinking needs to take place (Hamel, 2009; Kukalis, 2009; Roughhead, 2011). The first (and hardest step) is for management; they must cultivate, rather than repress employee (or customer) dissatisfaction with the status quo and their power. By opening up to the design that good, viable ideas can move laterally (across role boundaries) and vertically (up and down), not just horizontally (among ranked-peers), managers can create an environment where corporate citizenship increases, production streamlines, retention increases, and overall costs decrease (3M, 2010; Hamel, 2009; Kerr, 1996). When the goals and ideals of the workforce are amalgamated to the goals and principles of the organization as a whole, everybody wins.
3M (2010, July 7). 3M Century of Innovation. Retrieved from http://solutions.3M.com
Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Roughead. “Time, Tide and the Net Wait for No
One: Leadership in the New Media Environment.” Institute for Public Relations Strategic Communications Summit. 6 Jun. 2011. http://navylive.dodlive.mil/ index.php/2011/06/06/time-tide-and-the-net-wait-for-no-one-leadership-in-the- new-media-environment/
Hamel, G. (2009). Moon shots for management. Harvard Business Review 87(2), 91-98
Kerr, S. (1996). Risky business: the new pay game. Fortune. 134(2), 94-97.
Kukalis, S. (2009). Survey of recent developments in strategic management: Implications for practitioners. International Journal of Management. 261) 99-106.