old structures, clear and distinct, that once organized the world are
gone. The world has become a giant network where information is
instantly accessible and shared. The future is rewritten faster than we
can understand. This accelerated connectivity has created increased the
rate of change. As a result, the future is increasingly difficult to
most organizations still rely forms of work designed over 100 years
ago, for the challenges and opportunities of the industrial era. These
structures can only accommodate routine and static work. High level
managers push for efficiency and predictability, but at the expense of
information flow, quick learning and adaptability. These priorities are
no longer right.
with a better perspective, on the other hand, understand that this
radical change is also reflected in the business landscape, and the
concept of responsive organization is emerging as a solution. In this
idea is the key to the survival of your organization the current climate
of constant transformation.
organizations are designed to learn and react quickly through an open
flow of information; to encourage experimentation and learning in rapid
cycles; and to organize as a network of employees, customers and
partners motivated by a shared purpose.
is a reason why we have run organizations the way we have: Our old
command and control operating model was suitable for complex, but
predictable, challenges. Some of these challenges still exist today and
can be faced with the industrial age practices that we know so well.
However, as the pace of change accelerates, the challenges we face are
becoming less predictable. Those practices that were so successful in
the past are counterproductive in less predictable environments.
Instead, responsive organizations are designed to thrive in less
predictable environments by balancing different tensions:
- Profit v. Purpose.
In the past, the goal for many organizations was to create economic
value for shareholders or owners, often in the short term. Today people
are looking for organizations that have a purpose beyond simply making
money. Instead of seeing profits as the main objective of an
organization, progressive leaders see profits as a byproduct of success.
They aim to do well by doing good. A clear and visionary purpose brings
together shining talents, committed shareholders, partners and
- Control v. Autonomy.
In the past, a limited number of people had the power and understanding
necessary to lead the organization and its public image. Control was
forced through centralized, top-down decision making. This makes sense
in a world where a few select people are very likely to have the
knowledge and experience necessary to make the best decisions. Now, that
is no longer the case. Circumstances and markets change rapidly as
information flows faster. Now people with the best discernment and
decision making are usually the people closest to customers, on the
front lines or even “outside” of typical organizational boundaries.
Instead of controlling through process and hierarchy, businesses get
better results by inspiring and empowering people on the margins to do
the job as they see fit, strategically, structurally and tactically.
- Plans v. Experiments.
Before, organizations competed optimizing productivity, efficiency and
predictability through long-term planning. Relying on planning was
important because high transaction costs made it difficult to change
course once decisions had been made, resources had been committed and
people and teams had been coordinated. Today, plans begin to lose their
value as soon as they are devised. Because we cannot predict the future,
time and resources devoted to planning are a less valuable investment
than the adoption of agile methods that encourage experimentation and
stimulate rapid learning. The opposite of planning does not have to be
chaos. Receptive organizations still need a long-term vision, but they
move forward through experimentation and iteration.
- Hierarchies v. Networks.
There used to be large and complex tasks that required many people to
work on them. Transaction costs involved in coordinating people were
high, so the concept of a manager was introduced and, as the numbers
increased, a manager for the managers, and then another layer, and so
hierarchies were formed. A single primary connection was reinforced:
manager to worker. The command and control leadership style was
established, which was tremendously successful during the industrial
era. Now, technology and connectivity have increased our capacity for
self-organization, collaborating more easily through internal and
external organizational boundaries. It is no longer necessarily true
that coordination through an administrator is more effective than
self-organization. Working as a network allows us to organize with many
different types of connections and greater autonomy.