Times are changing

At Teal Unicorn, we believe the purpose of a manager is to make work better: better results from the work, better lives for those doing the work, and a better society within which the work is done.

(…and the goal of a manager is to deliver the outcomes set for them by the organisation, using the organisational people and resources they are authorised to use).

Today, managers are beset by two special challenges.

  • Our customers, suppliers, and staff expect us to reflect the values of the society, to live them internally within our organisation, and embed them in our products.
  • At the same time the world is changing at an exponential rate, and becoming increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

So we must advance to embrace modern values, and we must respond constantly to changes in conditions that are imperfectly understood. The organisations that succeed at this have a higher culture (the highest aspiration is called Teal) and a better way of working (those who look like magic are called a Unicorn).

In order to achieve this we need two related capabilities: agility and resilience.

To get agility and resilience we need to influence five levels: the governance, executive leadership, management, systems of work, and the people doing the work. At Teal Unicorn, we believe that – although all five levels are important – the key level to unlock advancement is the management layer. For an organisation to change, the managers must change how they manage. That is the primary focus of our work. Why do we focus on management? Because we see it often neglected, and because it is the key. We look at the impact of these new ways on management in the modern enterprise – how to change your ways of managing.

Are you struggling to keep up with the rate of change? Are you facing challenges with customer expectations? Is it difficult to relate to how some peers and team members view work? Are people trying to change the organisation in ways that seem high risk and irresponsible? Consider the possibility that they are not crazy, that they also have the best interests of the organisation at heart. You may need to see them in new ways to find common ground.

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).

  • New ways of management to make work better: Lean, Agile, Open, Servant, Invitational, Business Agility.
  • New ways of working that management enables: collaborative, agile, empowered knowledge work; iterative, incremental, experimenting, exploring complex systems.
  • New ways of thinking about the world: we call it Human Systems Agility.

This thinking is transforming IT, enterprises, government, and society. Its impact is far reaching enough to talk of it as a renaissance in thinking, a refresh or step change that comes only once or twice a century. This is not an exaggeration.

“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

These concepts that Teal Unicorn deals with, in advancing enterprise work and management (especially management), rise from an even deeper philosophical shift which we are not qualified to discuss in depth. But we see the new thinking everywhere, so this page points to a few models we know of, which all point to this renaissance, this flip, step-change, new age… Social thinking is crossing a boundary (and just in time, looking at world politics). Feminism, diversity, egality, socialism, empowerment, digital, virtual, complexity, networks, … so many powerful forces are at play.

And the roots run deep. As soon as Scientific Management appeared at the turn of last century, there was an immediate reaction promoting more humane thinking. The struggle for women’s rights is even older, as is the fight against slavery and for equal racial rights. The Twentieth Century saw the rise of social welfare, global collaboration, universal health care, foreign aid, pacifism and arms control, the Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps, human rights, the hippy movement, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism, corporate social responsibility and multiple bottom lines, stakeholder capitalism, and many more developments all on the same trajectory of higher social consciousness.

This directly impacts work and management. Managers everywhere get this clear: the world is now driven by values not value. To have products aligned to customer values, you must live those values. You can’t fake this. You will get called out. And the cognitive dissonance will damage your organisation. To win at this game, we must be a better organisation, embracing the values of our community.