Saturday, August 21, 2010

The End of Management

Wall Street Journal Deputy Managing Editor Alan Murray has an excellent essay in the paper today titled "The End of Management: Corporate bureaucracy is becoming obsolete. Why managers should act like venture capitalists."  It stunned me in its alignment with the Bossless Organization (aka Organization 2.0), all the way down to the venture capital model and entrepreneurial, ad-hoc teams of peers.

It starts by arguing that, if management of the corporate bureaucracy was the most important innovation of the 20th century (Drucker), changes in the 21st century are rapidly making it obsolete: globalization, accelerating innovation, relentless competition, rapidly changing markets - they simply can't adapt fast enough. That's half of the problem - the other half is rapidly dropping transaction costs reducing the need for large, bureaucratic corporations (a la Ronald Coase). Mass collaboration is now easily accessible and affordable via the Internet. He then moves on to what's next:
...the trends here are big and undeniable. Change is rapidly accelerating. Transaction costs are rapidly diminishing. And as a result, everything we learned in the last century about managing large corporations is in need of a serious rethink. We have both a need and an opportunity to devise a new form of economic organization, and a new science of management, that can deal with the breakneck realities of 21st century change.
The new model will have to be more like the marketplace, and less like corporations of the past. It will need to be flexible, agile, able to quickly adjust to market developments, and ruthless in reallocating resources to new opportunities.
This is the core of the innovator's dilemma. The big companies Mr. Christensen studied failed, not necessarily because they didn't see the coming innovations, but because they failed to adequately invest in those innovations. To avoid this problem, the people who control large pools of capital need to act more like venture capitalists, and less like corporate finance departments. They need to make lots of bets, not just a few big ones, and they need to be willing to cut their losses.

The resource allocation problem is one Google has tried to address with its "20%" policy. All engineers are allowed to spend 20% of their time working on Google-related projects other than those assigned to them.
In addition to resource allocation, there's the even bigger challenge of creating structures that motivate and inspire workers. There's plenty of evidence that most workers in today's complex organizations are simply not engaged in their work. Many are like Jim Halpert from "The Office," who in season one of the popular TV show declared: "This is just a job.…If this were my career, I'd have to throw myself in front of a train."

The new model will have to instill in workers the kind of drive and creativity and innovative spirit more commonly found among entrepreneurs. It will have to push power and decision-making down the organization as much as possible, rather than leave it concentrated at the top. Traditional bureaucratic structures will have to be replaced with something more like ad-hoc teams of peers, who come together to tackle individual projects, and then disband.
The new model will have to go further. New mechanisms will have to be created for harnessing the "wisdom of crowds." Feedback loops will need to be built that allow products and services to constantly evolve in response to new information. Change, innovation, adaptability, all have to become orders of the day.

Can the 20th-century corporation evolve into this new, 21st-century organization? It won't be easy. The "innovator's dilemma" applies to management, as well as technology. But the time has come to find out. The old methods won't last much longer.
Hear, hear!

1 comment:

Oscar Del Santo said...

This is great stuff and I believe we all have the moral responsibility to contribute in whatever capacity towards making organization more human-friendly, more 2.0