By Daniel Prince, Psychosociologist, MPA, CHRP
The idea of this article came to me after numerous discourses during lectures or presentations to management committees. Managers are always puzzled and dumbfounded why the organizations they work for, asks them to change, not only the way they manage, but what to manage as well as how to do it. It goes without saying that this generates a lot of disarray among the management employees.
I noticed that once I have explained my view during the discourse or the presentation, of how the decision typically came about, many managers feel relieved. It is at this point that they can begin to commit to being more proactive and adapt to the changes they have been asked to make.
This immediate change in attitude among managers may only be skin deep and insignificant to some; however, to others it may be a life changing moment. Just as the chaos theory indicates, the butterfly effect explains a small change in one state can result in large difference in a later, more complex state. Would it be any different in organizations? From my experiences this effect also plays a role in organizations as well.
Why is that?
As I often say, if you want people to embark on a journey with you, you must tell them where you want to go. I frequently tell this example: if I ask you to take a ride with me in my car, the first question you are going to ask is “where are we going”?
Behind this simple question lies a lot of information. It might signify that the person is curious or that you don’t have the level of trust that you have expected. But it hides a lot more! It can mean: “How long is it going to take?” Or “do I need to change my attire?” as well as “Do I need to bring money or something to eat”?
And what if the answer is: “Get in my car you will see”…
How many of you would take the ride? Mot many, I am sure.
Why is that?
Indeed, the answer is quite simple and revolves around the “What’s in it for me” factor. People want to know where they are going in order to be able to build a strategy that will give them the best position in the current or expected change… At least, they think they can be in the best position.
So if I know that I am in Quebec City and that we are going to drive to New York City, I will need to eat, to dress comfortably, to bring my passport and wallet because I will be able to visit the museum or shop at this high-end clothing store, etc.
In brief, I am building a strategy that will bring (I hope) only positives impacts for me.
Not knowing is simply to paralyze!
Explaining what will go on enables possibilities of actions one can take.
Why is that?
Organizations provide their employees a sense of belonging.
Giving a sense of direction to what people do helps them design strategies to improve, adapt, change… or even leave the situation, the department or the organization. Not knowing is equivalent to being paralyzed and this generates anxiety, stress, sleeping disorders that may drive a person to depression, burn out, etc.
Giving a sense of direction not only to what is going on, but also, to what people do could generate enormous possibilities.
But what has happened in the world of organizations that has such a tremendous effect on them?
If you ask me, it all started in 1999. There was a little cat with headphones on its ears. Some of you may remember the logo of Napster. Cofounded by par Shawn Fanning, John Fanning and Sean Parker, this online service allowed people to share music files freely through peer to peer (P2P) sharing services.
This “simple” innovation changed the music industry and how it made money, forever! Few years later, as digital capacities grew, information technologies (IT) took over and have directly impacted the movie industry and how we watch movies, followed by the way we get informed (newspapers are now turning to the digital format over the print), including the way we read books. It also introduced new ways to make business. The banking industry has closed branches as people change their behaviors and adopt the possibilities that IT gives them.
The same is happening to brick-and-mortar businesses as more and more consumers purchase their stuff on-line.
And we all know about the domino effect. There is a direct impact on other industries. You don’t need as much as paper as you used to. You don’t need to go to the bank to pay bills anymore. You don’t even have to go the office anymore since you are working from home!
What is really behind this idea?
The real driver of change in organizations is what new information technologies offer to consumers and how this impacts and changes consumer behaviors.
How does this impact the job of managing?
As the workplace environment changes, in depth and in speed, organizations must also adapt to keep up with the changes that are happening inside their environments. How are they accomplishing this?
First, in order to accelerate the information and the decision flow, organizations’ shrink their structures and eliminate layers of hierarchy. In order to become leaner they next eliminate steps from their processes.
As the environment quickly evolves, organizations are now faced with the need for quicker reaction times. To accomplish this they give more autonomy to employees in regional operational bases, particularly employees who are in direct contact with the front-line environment (customer service, marketing staff, etc.).
What is the benefit?
Since the environment is trending towards unpredictability, strategic knowledge is on the move, from the centralized strategic decisional center to the regional operational base. Typically, the centralized operational center, through its many contacts with the front-line environment holds most of the organization’s strategic information. As the shift occurs, regional operational bases now become strategic! What a beautiful paradox this becomes.
Finally, for organizations to meet expectations, they have to change perspective and swing away from the old paradigm of Plan, Manage, Organize and Control and adapt the new approach of Share, Delegate (Empower), Guide and Communicate.
Modification in the manager’s role
Traditional (the Boss)
The new role (the coach)
Talks a lot
Listen a lot
As you can see above, managers can no longer be the knowledge depositary of the organizations, because the environment looks to respond more to the emergence phenomenon described in the chaos theory than to the incremental law of changes and that emergent changes are popping faster and faster.
The consequence of all this is that managers don’t manage people anymore… they manage systems. The information system, the interrelation system, the cooperation and collaboration systems are all kind of systems that they have to learn from as well as to learn to manage.
They also have to manage the worker’s environments, the recognition systems, through new ways of managing as for instance; gamification.
But there is one thing that managers and organizations must avoid at all cost. This thing is: put in place more processes in order to manage the complexity that is emerging from the new environment for an illusionary attempt to control it…
Why is that?
Because it will only generate complicatedness! Moreover, by doing this, organizations put their managers on a role of bottleneck in their own processes! Adding complicatedness to complexity is the guaranteed way to failure and a guaranteed way to extra cost and loss of efficiency and effectiveness.
So we have seen, in brief, some impacts that the coming age of IT can generate onto organizations, their management system, their processes and the way they organize work. A lot more is yet to come. What is or what will be impacted next by the arrival of the new technological era?
I have a pretty good idea…
DANIEL PRINCE sera présent au prochain Colloque Gestion et Ressources Humaines 2017, une présentation du Journal de Québec, les 2 et 3 juin 2017.
CRHA et CRIA: 8 heures d’activités de développement reconnues au programme de formation continue.
14 conférences sur 2 jours | Thématiques:
• Gestionnaire, une profession en mutation • Les compétences de demain • La créativité • L’innovation • Le changement • La santé • La culture • Le recrutement
• Les tendances • Qualité de vie au travail • Pratiques distinctives • Et encore plus!
 Although that knowing doesn’t necessary enable actions…the « Ostrich principle« or the “three monkeys strategy” can interfere in the process of acting or not…as well as a lot of more other serious factors.
 Henri Laborit (1914 -1995) in L’éloge de la fuite (1976) writes: «”There are three possibilities for a living organism to face its environment: It can adapt to it, change it or leave it”.
 Globalization is another important factor of change in organizations, but I will not extend over this subject.
 Their lies the basket of processes engineering firms.
 To demonstrate that the situation is not an intellectual conceit from the author, rely on the fact that organizations are less and less making five years strategic plans. They are more and more on a scope of three years and many on an eighteen months scale for a strategic planning.
 Paradoxes are another thing that organizations have to learn from and to deal with.
 Coach is an awfully overused word, but since it’s generally accepted (but not necessarily understood), I will use it only in an illustration purpose although that close to employees (proximity manager?) manager is the denomination that I like the best.
 This could be the subject of a next article.
 And without mentioning the impacts on the work climate!