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The enterprise in a complex world – an apology to diversity

At the core of digital transformations, the firm must question its organizational and management models. New buzzwords are emerging. Are they to be taken for granted? Which model will help the company to make the best of its talents?

A few things about digital transformation
Digital transformation is leading to many changes inside the company: new modes of organization, new management and functioning roles. But let us avoid hasty conclusions which could hinder our understanding about the reality of the complex professional relationships at stake. Take for example collaborative work. It seems to be the very emblem of digitization, thanks to all the new possibilities offered by social networks and collaborative tools, seemingly a perfect way for agility, for innovation and the emergence of new ideas that any business needs. However, it is known that disruptive ideas mostly arise during solitary reflection and that social networks are time consuming, hence a burden to efficiency.
To go further on this topic of exchange and collaboration, isn’t it a justification, at least a partial one, for the open space which has become the grail for “openness” and “sharing” amongst employees, removing most walls and partitions between desks ? Well, most open-space offices show that employees avoid talking and remain silent or use headphones to isolate themselves from the surrounding noise.
Another example concerns the so-called “Y” generation. Those belonging to this generation are usually considered as having disruptive ways of working, more agile and modern, compared to older generations, thanks to their good command of digital tools. Some studies show, however, that in their relation to work, younger and older generations have never been so close.
These few examples show how complex these notions are when digital transformation of the enterprise is at stake and when decision makers try to implement corporate social networks or new workspaces, to name only those two.

Towards a new model of corporate democracy
Most transformations within the enterprise continuously redefine management modes and organizations induced by the old Taylor-based model, seen now as too rigid and too hierarchical. Digital transformation is no exception. In fact, since Taylor, a more individual-based approach has flourished in order to take the salaried worker’s aspiration more into consideration, be it the “lean management” of Toyota or the management by individual objectives of Peter Drucker. Later in the 90’s appeared a few methods of un-hierarchical experiences like 360° feedback management. Today, with the development of social networks and communities that cut the pyramid in as many slices, we see a tendency to go a step further towards democracy in the enterprise, where governance is not the sole managers’ privilege, but is shared amongst a larger chunk of the salaried population.
These ideas have been given a certain momentum in the media recently thanks to a number of companies that have radically changed their organizations and management modes. It is the case of FAVI in France, which shows extraordinary results by having suppressed managers altogether, of SOL in Finland with the same kind of “no-control & confidence” management experience and of Happy in the UK, the company that puts the well-being of its employees at the forefront, allowing them to even choose their managers. There are more examples which buzzed on the internet, like Zappos or the Poult group in France where company growth is tied with team empowerment, removal of steering committees and replacement by a rotating assembly of salaried worker to take strategic decisions.

“Holacracy”, I beg your pardon?
This model has been theorized by Brian Robertson between 2001 and 2010 and propagated by many personalities like Bernard-Marie Chiquet in France and is a system of corporate governance which relies on small scale self-regulated organizations that are at the same time interdependent and as much as possible autonomous. Even if this system aims at distributing power evenly across the organization, it is very much relying on strict functioning rules in terms of decision making and coordination processes. It ensures everyone to have a minimum contribution to the collective governance and even regulates the time of holding the floor during meetings in order to avoid leadership being stolen by best-in-class speakers. “Holacracy” is generally presented as a mean for the enterprise to adapt to agility needs by suppressing bureaucracy, but it is mostly focused on avoiding power struggle inside the organization by putting each individual on the same footing in autonomous structures. By its coordination methods, it aims to avoid slow decision making and energy spilled by internal uproars, ego conflicts, silo effects and leaders’ postures.

It is otherwise funny to note that a certain kind of company is now growing without expressively referring to this model, but adopts a very similar organization: like for example networked communities of small enterprises, based or not on the web 2.0 model but anyhow small and autonomous, keeping a human size for a better communication level between employees, but at the same time belonging to a larger web of sister-companies to take advantage of a bigger footprint. Does this represent a strong future tendency?

Taking advantage of all talents
We can see that this evolution of organizational models mostly tends to avoid some annoyances of existing large corporations, where governance is heavy, decision-making slow and employees not very much engaged despite efforts in providing structures that are agile and bendable. Despite the fact that, over time, companies have parted from Taylor in terms of organization and have amplified the individual negotiation of objectives, it remains that the common image of the Manager of a “decision maker” or “leader”, when it should be more associated with “listener” or “counselor”. We know that it is employees’ first wish vis-à-vis their managers: to be supported by a coach rather than a boss. So it is a rather difficult equation to solve by the first line manager in combining all these roles: responsible for the work output, coordinator, animator of the team, coach of each employee, decision-maker, even visionary, without forgetting personal communication skills badly needed in the society we live in today !
Facing the need for these multiple competences and taking advantage of all talents means therefore to first accept that one man cannot provide all, but those roles should be shared amongst the team members according to their individual skills. For example the manager can rely on experts or project managers for technical decisions and so on. However, leading and communicating remain close to governance capacities and those who show authority, decisiveness and self-branding are those who, most of the time, climb faster up the ladder. But this type of management model is an easy solution to a complex problem for many reasons. If listening, coaching and team-building are less rewarded this produces frustrated and dis-engaged employees, reducing in turn the quality of talent expression.

Makers, creators, operational people need also to be considered among the most determining forces of the company. They have ideas, methods or disruptive reflections that can have remarkable impact. Maybe they do not have the best way to express their thoughts or to convince audiences, but the company has a clear interest in giving them the reins. As a comparison, Literature Nobel prizes like Albert Camus or Patrick Modiano might not be very good at public speaking, but their creations are nevertheless of utmost importance. In the same way, is it essential that a visionary in IT systems evolution, for example, be at the same time a marvelous speaker? In fact, other competences are necessary to manage the entity in charge of implementing such evolutions. It might be sufficient to amend the executive team in a proper way, but also to work on the human resources to complete competence needs and to organize teams accordingly. Altogether, it seems very important to put forward various competencies in order to boost the enterprise positively, in other words, to take advantage of diversity.

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