So how has leadership been evolving? According to my recent survey results, many people felt that senior management is a “serious concern holding us back”. Data from past years show this is not new.
Of course there are examples among large, global companies where major changes are happening. Steve Denning, senior contributor on leadership strategy for Forbes, wrote an article at the end of November entitled “Why Management Innovation Is Hiding in Plain Sight”. His focus is not on the legacy industrial companies but on what he calls “the digital economy, which is now almost half of the overall economy and growing much faster than these older firms.” He goes on to say that “Firms being run in the industrial-era manner are now treated by the stock market as cash cows to help fund the firms that are on genuine growth paths.” This all makes sense. He ends saying that management innovation is underway on a large scale. I hope he’s right.
However, data from my global surveys over the past ten years show that lack of management innovation is still a major blocker for many organizations. This also seems to be the view of Andrew Hill, management editor of the Financial Times, who wrote a piece about “How management fashions can change the world”. In it, he refers to an interview he had in November 2010 with management guru Gary Hamel who said “I am willing to stake my reputation that we will see more dramatic change in the way management is organized in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the last 60 or 70.” In Hill’s November article, he states his belief that management practices have not evolved much in the last ten years: “a manager from 2011, or 1991, or even, frankly, 1961 would still feel right at home in the office of 2021”. However, Hill’s article is upbeat and, in fact, does not really contradict Denning’s view and actually fits with my own data. It is just a question of time: “Innovative organizational habits are slow to catch on, but as they percolate they have the potential to transform bloated bureaucracies.”
My data tell a sorry story
Well, I have not been studying management since 1991 nor 1961 but I have seen over the past 8 or 9 years that senior leadership behaviors are still a major obstacle in many organizations for people wanting to do things differently.
People, in theory, can self-manage their work, and this has increased significantly over past years. However, when it comes to truly influencing how the organization works and reinventing work practices, it is still difficult to make a real difference. The underlying factor that blocks change is leadership. You can see from the data above that for the past eight years, nearly half the people do not agree that their top leaders work in an “open and participatory” way. They also feel that people are not encouraged to challenge the status quo.
Fortunately, there are exceptions. These leaders are still outliers. I quoted a manager in a global company in Scandinavia in my book who told me “If I as a manager don’t encourage the gig mindset, I would lose both the motivation and, in the end, the best people.”
We need to hurry
There is no time to waste. Denning says management innovation is happening on a large scale. Hill says it is percolating.
Here’s what I think. I love Andrew Hill’s photo of Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” where she explains how radical ideas filter down eventually. However, in my experience and with the data I have seen, radical ideas filter up, now down. And only if they are not killed off first. I wrote about this in civil disobedience facing strategic blindness.
Let’s hope things percolate fast! Up or down, whichever goes faster, but also lasts and grows.
Share your thoughts in the comments on the original post on LinkedIn (from December 29, 2021) and see what others think.
You can reach me on Twitter @netjmc or via my website: https://www.netjmc.com/about/
You can read about my 2021 survey results here, and join in the conversation. https://www.linkedin.com/posts/netjmc_the-gig-mindset-in-2021-you-and-your-organization-activity-6865681161218215936-BdSQ
Referred to in the article above: