Companies need to transform how managers manage.
Agile is a recent example of work innovations emphasizing autonomous, self-managed teams. Other approaches that companies have been experimenting with in recent years go by a bewildering variety of names: lean, holacracy, the polycratic organization, and the exponential organization, to list a few. But in this organizational revolution-in-the-making, a critical piece is missing. Companies lack a compelling model for the role of management.
The challenge of the organizational revolution represented by agile and other new approaches is not that they make management somehow irrelevant or obsolete. Quite the opposite: they make management more important than ever before. But they also transform what managers have to do and how they need to work. In some cases, they even redefine who needs to be a manager.
Developing the new managerial model will require a shift in how managers conceive of their role. Put simply, they need to stop thinking of themselves as the master designers of hardwired organizational structures, processes, rules, and procedures. Instead, they need to become the everyday orchestrators of a flexible and dynamic behavioral system, one that unleashes employees’ autonomy and initiative, and puts it in the service of more effective cooperation to achieve the organization’s goals.
In a futile attempt to control complexity, many organizations design more rules, processes, and guidelines for each new performance objective. The paradoxical result is an increase in organizational complicatedness—that is, the proliferation of contradictory rules and instructions—which causes people to lose their sense of direction and to escalate decisions to committees or to senior leaders, who have no direct knowledge of the issues at hand.
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