I’m not very old, but I promise I have some good years behind me since I started my professional career several years ago. As I started, it was natural to me to work in an organization with a strong hierarchy; I had a boss who had a boss who had a boss who had a boss! Frankly, I would probably have been overwhelmed not to work in a centralistic organization, managed by instructions of hierarchical superiors.
One day it was finally my turn: I took over my department. A big “Leader” sign was hung beside my office door and on my business card as well. However, what woke me up every morning filled with hope was the fact that now I’m closer to taking decisions and hence closer to establishing a better environment for my department! My first plan, which is probably like anyone taking a managing position for the first time was to study various management counselors closely.
After examining an abundant amount of information I concluded that my first vital task is motivating my employees! Are you asking yourself how? I learned that I simply need to set objectives and control them frequently, set binding deadlines when they need guidance and combine work with incentives and bonuses in order to obtain better performance. It doesn’t end here, I also learned that I had to form organizations and communication channels, so that I could efficiently make decisions. So basically I start with a plan – followed by obedience and control, this was the way to excellence.
When reflecting back to my former days, the respective structures I studied lead back to the history of management: In the 19th century, Frederick W. Taylor introduced a discipline called “scientific management”, also known as “Management X”. This discipline was triggered by the industrial revolution and mainly stemmed from the manufacturing infrastructure. The Core principle of this discipline is the clear separation of “Thinking” and “Execution” of work, which embodies the style of military structures. This basic principle is used to enable “expensive” management resources to control “cheap” workers in factories.
In this “Theory X” world people try to avoid hard working and need to be seduced to work by extrinsic motivation. Leadership – or precisely “management” – is applied by command-and-control-principles. Authoritarian management levels demanding dominance and pushing executing subordinates, who end demotivated by several detailed instructions and continuous pressure.
Although I use past tense to describe this Management X thinking, I´m aware that nowadays plenty of employees are still working in this kind of Taylor-like organizations, where communication is channeled and decisions are centralized. To be clear: this structure may work perfect in simple and stable environments.
Although that “Theory X” might work for simple and stable environments, I do not believe in the human image reflected by it. While all those management counselors taught similar concepts, people in my department demonstrated different behavior: They seem to be motivated, interested in their jobs, searching for sense and self-realization in their doing.
So I reached out again for information and resources that can help me understand the cause of this contradiction between what I’m learning vs. what I’m observing – and so I found some articles about the “Theory Y”. In a “Y-World” employees are intrinsically motivated and are willing to perform. As their leader you need to simply create the environment for their development and encounter them with maturity. Self-determined employees will repay with engagement, creativity, and willingness to take responsibility.
But why does that matter?
Latest with the era of knowledge-workers and increasing digitalization, it became essential for organizations to react fast: According to Juniper Research with 2.2 billion the number of send mobile messages per day in 2017 have doubled compared to 2012. In 2010, 97% of employees use emails for their daily work, 93% web browsing, 66% share documents via internet, 44% use instant messaging, and 40% text messaging (IDC, May 2010). Those numbers show that it is possible to nearly share information with people all over the world without any delay or detour. Digitalization has enabled organizations to implement and work with completely new structures and processes. The speed of change is at a tearing pace and is unavoidable.
Organizations have to face the situation that project status and conditions change overnight – and deal with the resulting risks but also adapt rapidly in order to enable benefits from arising chances. Each escalated decision or refusal to change in our age is worth a tremendous amount of hidden cost. Organizations need to get more flexible, adaptive, in short: Organizations need to become agile.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin
Processes and organizational structures will become more virtual, transparent, and connected. Instead of stiff and highly inefficient “command and control” cultures, core principles like “shared responsibility”, collaboration and value based leadership will get more and more significant. Organizations that are the most effective in providing information to the people at the periphery of their interfaces were it is required instead of transporting information above to the responsible management levels will have unbeatable competitive advantage. They are simply faster than the others. And they use the entire capacity of all their team members instead of relying of selected managers – deciding on filtered and incomplete information streams.
With this it is a question of time that the established incentive systems will give way for new and value driven structures, way beyond impulsion using money, mastery, hierarchy, and status symbols.
There are several ways to improve the performance of your department – but there is just one option to work towards performance excellence and with it long term gains:
“Provide the environment that enables your employees to outgrow you!” – #EMPOWERING.TEAM
Are you willing to do that for your organization?