Management Innovations: Changing the Way We Manage People and Process

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June 2008

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletterJoAnn Hackos

Management Innovations: Changing the Way We Manage People and Process

In the January issue of the McKinsey Quarterly, Joanna Barsh interviews Lowell Bryan, author of a new management book, Mobilizing Minds, and Gary Hamel, author of The Future of Management. Both authors are concerned that the methods our organizations use to manage are outmoded and do not support the innovation we need to keep companies viable and productive. The old methods of management, with complex hierarchies of control and decision-making, are not responsive to changes that technology makes possible. The Internet, with its greatly increased communication capabilities, offers opportunities for employee collaboration and innovation that upper management likes to ignore.

One CIDM manager recently told me about his senior management’s decision to get rid of office space and require employees to work at home. Such a move may be applauded as an effort to reduce costs and environmental impact. Fewer people driving to work every day decreases the carbon footprint of the company. However, the manager has worked long and hard to build a collaborative team with an emphasis on innovative information development. He fears that the collaborative spirit may be undermined by the work-at-home policy.

The decision to change the work environment was made for financial reasons, probably with little attention to working green. The impact of the financial decision on worker innovation and productivity is often not considered. In fact, we continue to witness financial decisions that reduce staff, outsource information development to third-world countries, or deny requests for innovative new technology. The decisions rarely take into account the potential for creating innovative solutions and new sources of income that the existing staff represents.

From another CIDM manager, I learned about an initiative to convince management that a decision to drastically reduce the publications staff was bad. This manager successfully argued that the company’s goals for increasing innovation and thus revenues required an effective staff of information developers. Without motivated and engaged staff, we can hardly improve the quality of our work.

Hamel and Bryan warn that major changes in management style do not come easily. They argue that the major changes in 20th century management techniques were first proposed from 1890 through 1920. Not until the 60s and 70s, 50 years later, did these innovations become the norm. It may take another 50 years or more to remove the organizational barriers that present innovations from taking hold in our companies.

Hierarchical companies are out of date

The authors point out that much of the work we do today in our organizations focuses on thinking rather than constructing or manufacturing. In information development, we are clearly moving from an emphasis on getting a printed book out the door to an emphasis on getting the right content to the right person at the right time (a phrase borrowed with thanks from IBM’s Total Information Experience initiative). We must change from a “product” culture to one that emphasizes the quality of the content we deliver and the methods we use to deliver it to customers.

Remember that if we create valuable content for customers, we create an asset for our organizations. If we produce manuals that are not used, we spend money, time, and energy creating a liability. To create content as an asset, we need the support of organizations that value innovative work and support the people willing to do it. We need support for mechanisms that help our staff collaboratively build innovative content solutions.

According to Hamel and Bryan, “the leading companies today are combining talent and technology and organizational design to generate much higher profits per employee….” These same companies recognize that the decision-making cannot come solely from the C-level managers.

We know that motivated and effective teams can make good decisions if they are given the right opportunities. They can and will improve their processes, invest in technologies, and learn what the customers really need. But to do so, they need support and encouragement. If your senior management discounts the innovative work of your information developers and crushes every attempt to improve productivity and quality, then the staff members retreat into the doldrums. They put in their 40 hours but are neither engaged nor enthusiastic.

Key questions to ask

Hamel and Bryan point to several key questions that will tell you if your organization respects collaboration and innovation:

One—Has your company invested in teaching you how to be innovative?

Two—If you have a new idea, how much bureaucracy must you wade through to get the time and money to pursue it?

Three—Is anyone really measuring you on your team’s innovations?

Four—Do the management practices in your company support innovation?

If you ask yourself and your staff members these questions, what answers will they give you. In some of the companies I work with, the answers to all four are “no.” I hear the “no’s” from participants in the minimalism workshop who tell me that their companies refuse to support them in learning what customers really need to know. I hear the “no’s” when they claim that they cannot change outdated publication practices or get their technology requests turned down flat.

On the other hand, I do hear a lot of “yes” answers to all four questions from CIDM managers. By nature, the CIDM manager members work hard to encourage innovations and change the way they create and deliver content. Despite their work, they do daily battle with senior managers who make decisions that affect their work lives without ever asking about the consequences.

New ways of managing that encourage people to be innovative and resourceful and effective may be slow in coming in many organizations. Nonetheless, we can’t quit. CIDM members know they have to change the way they and their teams work. They’re willing and anxious to make the changes. But they need the resources and support that must come, at least today, from the top.

Here’s how the authors talk about it. We need to create “a much more stimulating work environment, with more interesting jobs for employees to create more valuable products and services….”

At the annual Best Practices conference in September, we will focus on the challenges of influencing our organizations, from senior management to peers to staff. That focus is just what we need to become more effective at leading thinking-focused, innovative organizations.CIDMIconNewsletter