Over 30 years ago Tom Peters studied “excellent” companies and observed what made them so in the management classic In Search of Excellence. One paragraph stuck out to me:
We need new language. We need to consider adding terms to our management vocabulary: a few might be temporary structures, ad hoc groups, fluid organizations, small is beautiful, incrementalism, experimentation, action orientation, imitations, lots of tries, unjustified variations, internal competition, playfulness, the technology of foolishness, product champions, bootlegging, skunk works, cabals and shadow organizations. Each of these turns the tables on conventional wisdom. Each implies both the absence of clear direction and the simultaneous need for action. More important still, we need new metaphors and models to stitch these terms together into a sensible, coherent, memorable whole.
What I think he is describing then is best described now by the term “Responsive Organization“.
But if it was known to Tom Peters and his readers 30 years ago – albeit without a single snappy name – why the urgency now? Because, thanks to technology, the pace has changed. Incumbents can be disrupted quickly, from new technology that enables a new way of doing business. Venture Capitalist Marc Andreessen coined the phrase, that “software is eating the world”, and this is evidenced by new startups disrupting and cannibalizing well entrenched players in big markets. Great examples would be Uber for transportation, airbnb for accommodation and Amazon for just about everything.
From the manifesto, there are a number of shifts that characterize a Responsive Org:
- From efficiency to responsiveness.
- From hierarchies to networks.
- From controlling to empowering.
- From extrinsic rewards to intrinsic motivation.
- From offices and office hours to the ability to work anytime and anywhere.
- From “customers and partners” to a “community”.
Jack Welch said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
In this new always-on world things are moving faster than ever, and customers now have more power than ever. Thanks to the internet we have easy access to information whether it’s Wikipedia or crowdsourced wisdom from online review sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor which tell us where to eat, shop or stay. Suddenly, companies that aren’t open, listening, learning and experimenting get eclipsed and they don’t know what hit them; look at BlackBerry.
Microsoft was protected by having a monopoly, and the slow pace of innovation. The number one thing that’s killing them is the switch from long product development cycles for on-prem and installed software to the rapid iteration of cloud. Microsoft isn’t set up to cope with that. They missed the mark with tablets ten years ago and when Apple did it right they sought to catch up. Their attempt to overtake Apple is unfortunately too clever by half. They are trying to build a single category killing product: it’s a PC and a tablet. The end result is that’s it not good for either purpose.
But technology is not just a threat to companies, it enables much of the internal change which allows companies to be more responsive:
You can use an enterprise social network like Yammer to break down layers of management and enable more open dialog. An ESN enables frequent informal communication. You don’t have to write a formal email and you don’t have to know the other person. In an ESN serendipity rules. By speeding up communication and breaking down barriers between all levels in the org the catalyst for change happens.
You can use Twitter, Facebook, Get Satisfaction, or Survey Monkey to have an immediate conversation with or get feedback from your community.
You can use the internet, tablets and laptops to allow employees to work more flexibly, whether in the office, out on the road with clients, or working from home.
You can use a SaaS product like RecognizeApp to help motivate and praise employees.
You can use a SaaS product like Jive to create communities of customers, users and employees.
For more on the Responsive Org movement, watch this talk by Yammer’s cofounder Adam Pisoni: