“Tomorrow’s business imperatives lie outside the performance envelope of today’s bureaucracy-infused management practices… Equipping organizations to tackle the future would require a management revolution no less momentous than the one that spawned modern industry.”

 

G. Hamel, Moon Shots For Management

 

The Web burst into general awareness in the mid-90′s.  Since then we’ve collectively clicked and linked our ways through the dot-com boom, the early days of what was called Web 2.0 (web sites and spaces characterized by interactivity).  Now we live, work and play as members and participants in interconnected eco-systems of information flows, knowledge work and connected commerce.

In this context, increasingly we are required to develop adaptive social and communications-driven behaviours.  The ways people work are changing in important ways. The past ten years or so have seen a rapid growth of interconnected networks of information and people. These fundamental changes in conditions are in turn having a growing significant impact on the established practices of  management science and the models, curricula and training used to develop professional managers.  Soon-to-be ubiquitous “social computing” activities makes visible the diminishing effectiveness and growing obsolescence of many of the core tenets of established management science.

The evolution of management science and generic management skills

The world of business and government, which is where most professional managers “live” (work), is undergoing a massive evolutionary transition.  This transition is due to a number of important and now unavoidable factors.  Prime amongst these factors is:

1) two decades of rapid growth and spread of the use of computers and software,

2) a first wave of transforming processes and information-based work activities,

3) the arrival of the Internet and hyperlinked Web as an ubiquitous presence and utility in societies the world over.

What we understand and know as “management” has evolved over the past 75  years. This period has seen an all-encompassing rise, acceptance and embedding of the core principles of management “science”, primarily derived from the philosophical tenets of Taylorism.  This development has become the dominant paradigm of our technologically-driven industrial era and has been accompanied by the growth of  protocols, methods and practices now accepted the world over.

Managing is managing .. or so it seems.  Over the last 50 years a great deal has been written about what is effective management and how it is practiced.  There are at least two widespread understandings of the term and the issues it addresses.

The first meaning of the term ‘management’ addresses the classic sense of managing, as in planning, taking decisions, exercising decisional power in terms of both input to decisions and coercion / persuasion regarding the execution of activities. This is the underpinning of conventional management philosophy and protocol as practiced by leading organizations around the world.

The second meaning is in some important ways more pertinent for the purposes of working in an networked ecosystem of information flows and social interaction.  Adapting and thriving in these new and complex conditions demands looking forward, the ability to cope, stay afloat and navigate in a roiling sea of ambiguity, and juggle multiple sources of input combined with multiple foci of activity yet remain guided by purpose, goals and objectives.

New conditions bring new challenges

These new conditions have ushered in a range of fundamental challenges.  What has been until now been addressed incrementally  by most organizations is now beginning to be seen as more comprehensive, systemic, and transversal.  It involves interaction with a wide range of connected stakeholders .. customers, employees, and external or silo’d sources of expertise and responsive capacity.

However, there are firmly in place a range of managerial skills and practices that support, reinforce and sustain the practice of managing specific, separate domain-defined activities as if they were a piece of a puzzle or a part of a machine. The skills for managing in a traditionally-structured organization have been codified into models that define managerial work for the advanced / late-stage Industrial Era.

The adoption of these models worked well for the era at hand, making the notions of efficiency, economy and scale real and tangible.  Markets were growing, new ground was being broken in many arenas.  Organizing it all, and using (relatively) recent knowledge in a number of critical fields was crucial to progress in terms of efficiency and economic performance.

The acceptance and use of these models have spawned a decent-sized industry in training, development and coaching of managers towards greater effectiveness and more potent performance as managers.  They have come to define what management is, how it works and how it is practiced.

But as noted above, in the western world (at least) we are now facing a new set of conditions that is changing how people use information and access and build knowledge to work on problems, create new products, services and value.  In traditional organizations using traditional management the hierarchical arrangement of knowledge and experience was the critical defining feature of the flows and use of information to make decisions and supervise the processes and outputs of work.  However, the combination of sophisticated information search capabilities hyperlinks and the tools that use and drive hyperlinked information, and easy-to-use information and collaboration spaces (such as wikis, ‘social’ intranets and collaboration platforms such as Sharepoint, IBM Connections, Jive, Socialcast, Moxie and a host of other offerings) create networked environments wherein people work awith and within horizontal, transversal and cross-silo flows of information.  Of course, the dynamics of experimentation, co-creation, cooperation and collaboration are latent, and the pressure to make those dynamics practical, pertinent and productive is growing.  And, this environment will not disappear and the pressure will continue to grow.

The main challenge is how to empower people whilst retaining an effective degree of control and guidance over activities that are supposed to be well-organized, well-coordinated and that operate as if the activities of people doing the work function like a well-oiled machine.  In a networked environment there is a difficult and complex issue that arises.  When information flows as an ongoing series of moments of exchange and feedback, the inputs to the ‘machine’ and the outputs required of the ‘machine’ will need to be responsive in a very different way than being efficient and effective at delivering the same product or service over and over again in highly-standardised ways.

These new challenges are now becoming relatively well-understood. Today we know much more about how to function effectively in social networks than a decade ago.  So, what about the impacts on managing the networked work of the interconnected enterprise?

Many early responses to this question have appeared in the last 3 or 4 years, but arguably the perspectives put forward are still embryonic, in the early stages of adoption and use.