We are optimistic in the medium term that organisational culture is advancing.
Business bosses are starting to get it. Word is getting through, on several levels:
– the impossibility of managing knowledge workers in conventional ways
– the need for organisational agility as a survival strategy as the world becomes increasingly VUCA
– the demand for stakeholder values over shareholder or customer value.
All three drivers lead us to the same conclusion: Human Systems Agility, as we call it at Teal Unicorn:
– Bringing more humanity to work.
– Improving holistic systems.
– Optimising for change.
It is easy to be impatient, but this kind of shift takes decades. We must unwind the damage of the last fifty years of Friedmanism first. It’s happening.
As everybody is surely aware by now, big things are afoot in how we think about work and management. There are at least two fundamental drivers:
1) Big changes in thinking about society and culture are transforming IT, enterprises, government, and society.
We sum up the impact on work as “values over value”: the idea that an organisation exists only as a system to create value (shareholder capitalism, Friedmanism) has been displaced by the idea that an organisation must reflect the values of its customers, partners and staff, and make a positive contribution to the society in which it exists (stakeholder capitalism, Drucker, Keynes).
We mapped this trajectory of the advances in organisational thinking:
2) The pace of change is accelerating. We cannot ignore the volatile, uncertain, complex nature of our world.
“The 21st Century is a different game with different rules… The pursuit of efficiency was once a laudable goal, but being effective in today’s world is less a question of optimizing for a known (and relatively stable) set of variables than responsiveness to a constantly shifting environment. Adaptability, not efficiency, must become our central competence.” – Gen. Stanley McChrystal
We see the resulting shifts in many areas of work. Agile has spilled out of IT into the enterprise. Complex systems theory is finally shifting how we think. Safety culture is revealing the value in failure. Less widely known (yet), Open culture is flipping the hierarchy. As well there’s ideas like servant manager, transformational leader, open space, invitational leadership, promise theory, sustainability, and more… They all aim for “better value sooner, safer, happier” as Jon Smart put it. The world seems to still lump it all under the term “Agile Enterprise”.
This is what we know about (and continue to study):
New ways of management to make work better: Lean, Agile, Open, Servant, Invitational, Business Agility: we combine them in our Unicorn Management Model™.
New ways of working that management enables: collaborative, agile, empowered knowledge work; iterative, incremental, experimenting, exploring complex systems. Especially (but not only) within IT.
We try to embrace all the new concepts in the umbrella term Human Systems Agility:
Human: people, values, humanity, wholeness, culture, sharing, empathy, diversity, inclusiveness, egality, trust, integrity, authenticity, open, transparency, curiosity, learning, mastery, pride, empowerment, freedom, authorisation, servant manager, safety, wellbeing, flourishing, health. [states]
Systems: customer, value, flow, feedback, quality, lean, streams, iteration, networks, complexity, chaos, emergence, antifragile, shift left, teams, organisation, collaboration, ritual, sharing, resilience, human error, holistic, data, science. [artefacts]
Agility: ambiguous, uncertain, iterate, increment, experiment, explore, observe, adjust, fluid, organic, improve, curious, embrace failure, fail fast, small, granular, simplify, flexible, pragmatic. [actions/adjectives]
(from our book)
Building humanity at work, understanding systems, and adapting constantly to change are the strategies to make work better: better results, better lives at work, better society around us.
The low-risk way forward is to advance in increments, experimenting at every step, embracing failure, learning always.
Our clients have tested these ideas and enjoyed great success with them. They have tried tactics such as
- understanding value streams and identifying the main issue or constraint
- removing excessive approvals from processes
- empowering managers with discretionary budgets and distributed authority
- moving from big-bang to incremental opening of new services
- empowering young keen junior employees to have a voice and take responsibility
- building teamwork in leadership
- pursuing higher culture
- identifying waste and inefficiency
- building team identities
- visualisation of work
- changing reward systems to allow all to share in the success (creating more transparency and collaboration).
There is always a J-curve when we change any work system. Our clients have soldiered through theirs, and enjoyed the fruits of their commitment to new ways of working and managing with happier clients, a healthier culture, and more reliable success.
Several groups exist to spread this message of new ways, including
Some of the bastions of capitalist media are strong proponents too;
- MIT Sloan Management Review
- Harvard Business Review
These ways are displacing the ideas of big-bang projects; zero risk; certainty and accuracy; plan once execute perfectly; failure is not an option. At its heart, the agile way is about being able to adjust and change in a constantly changing world. Faster, more efficient, higher quality work is a by-product of agility, not the goal. The goal is to meet the changing needs of our organisation faster, though iteration, increment, experimentation, and exploration. We help you build this culture, through attention to leadership, happiness, space, empowerment, community, and communications.
At least as important, though, is New Ways Of Managing. Too often, management views the transformationadvancement to New Ways as something done to improve the practitioner workforce, not to management. This can’t be. For an organisation to change, the management must change. So we combine the two into the phrase New Ways Of Managing and Working or vice versa (we’ve used both ways). It is cumbersome but we leave it like that to make a point. This is one of the biggest issues facing organisations moving to agile ways of working. Managers must understand and focus on empowerment, collaboration, agility, and flow. So we make NWOM a special focus for Teal Unicorn. We provide coaching and training to get there. We like using games. Including in Vietnam, in Vietnamese.
Our clients have tested tactics such as;
- going to the gemba: moving around, observing, leapfrogging management layers
- removing hierarchical management (moving to servant managers)
- separate work management from personnel management
- removing excessive reporting
- tightening policy and reducing constraints
- allowing fluid team structures chosen by those doing the work
- listening to those doing the work instead of telling (or yelling)
- acknowledging when they don’t know
- embracing failure as a learning asset
- moving away from blame culture, and generally being more humane
- look to the system for causes of error, not the individual
- removing (very few) toxic individuals
- let people focus on their strengths not their weaknesses
- getting out of the way and letting the work flow
We have developed the Unicorn Management Model to capture our ideas. For much more information, see our new book, The agile Manager. Our favourite reading on NWOWAM is listed here . Watch our videos. Come to our training. For many more resources, visit our agile Managers’ Club. We would love you to be in our tribe of agile managers.
Rob and Cherry