The operating system of traditional organizations no longer works, it is a tangle of bureaucracy and rules that slow down processes and make it impossible for the organization to adapt to the ever-changing modern reality.
This article proposes a new type of organization defined: “evolutionary organization”, which is based on the principles of employee self-management, transparency and free flow of information at all levels.
Evolutionary organizations are the only possible future if you want to remain competitive in a world in rapid and continuous evolution.
The management system that has always been used no longer works in the modern world and what “evolutionary organizations” are
Today’s world is a constantly changing environment that requires agility and speed of adaptation, despite this, the hierarchy, the budget plans, the controls, in a nutshell the bureaucracy that was once the element capable of reinforcing and making growing our companies continues to abound, although nowadays it is an element of slowdown and a weak point.
As the world changes and evolves, the corporate OS, that is the operating system of each organization, is based on assumptions that are decades old and is rarely questioned. To overcome the terror of giving up that minimum of centralized control left and really evolving the operating system of your company, you have to decentralize it consistently.
The companies that take this path are called “evolutionary organizations”, companies that constantly change and improve their operating system, taking the path of self-management and thus eliminating hierarchies and bureaucracy.
How the assumptions on which the traditional organization is based were born, what are its effects on modern companies and how evolutionary organizations are the solution
The traditional organization was born more than a hundred years ago with Winslow Taylor, who divided the work done in the factories into small stages, designating the best way for each and assigning each stage to a worker; the implicit idea was that thought and execution were two divided concepts, the first was assigned to the ruling class and the second to the workers.
In today’s organizations this idea turns into bureaucracy, a set of rules that does not allow you to be agile and respond to the demands of the modern world quickly, creating what is called “organizational debt”: that is, any policy or structure that no longer has no use in an organization. The answer to organizational debt is the simplification of roles and processes.
The evolutionary organizations have managed to create a rapid decision-making system, a dynamic arrangement of resources and an innovation of products and processes through two crucial approaches: being positive People, that is trusting employees, and Complexity conscious or aware of the intrinsic complexity of a organization.
Positive people and Complexity conscious
People positive : in traditional organizations it is assumed that individuals do not wish to work or learn without an incentive, hence the idea of obligation and control. In evolutionary organizations, on the other hand, employees are considered motivated and self-managing individuals, the main idea is that human beings act according to the way they are treated.
Complexity conscious : evolutionary organizations are considered complex systems created by a large number of elements that interact with each other, resulting in unpredictable behavior. Bureaucracy is not suited to complexity and cannot manage unpredictability, therefore we must learn not to treat companies as complicated systems (cause and effect systems for which there is always a solution), otherwise we will continue to try to reach a control that will always be out of our reach.
The transition from a traditional operating system to an evolutionary one is hindered by the preconception on the status quo, true innovation is therefore blocked by the preference for a system already known but which we know is no longer effective, as opposed to an unknown system that could have results positive.
How to change the corporate operating system and become a positive organization towards employees
To change a company’s operating system, you can focus on the following sectors:
- Objective: it must be recognized that motivation and enthusiasm are linked to a sense of belonging and common purpose. Each team can be asked to articulate its intent and make the collective objective of the organization clearer, so as to create a connection between the two. The objective is important for the implementation of coherent actions in a free and autonomous environment, but at the same time it can change and transform itself as the community grows and evolves. For example, there is no need for a five-year plan if the market is constantly changing, better having a general idea of where you want to be in thirty years and updating it every six months.
- Authority: freedom and autonomy are the pillars of motivation. We must create a safe environment in which to experiment and make mistakes. Centralizing authority in a complex organization makes it impossible to adapt to the constant change of modern reality, therefore authority must be shared; for example, teams may have the authority to make certain low-risk decisions, while for others with higher risk, a system can be structured to request advice from colleagues with more experience or who may be influenced by the decision.
- Structure: it must be recognized that, in the right conditions, individuals are able to organize themselves independently. Employees must have the freedom to organize themselves in a team in a constant and free way, in order to seize opportunities and accelerate growth, moreover they can have multiple roles in different teams at the same time. It is important to create simple basic rules on team formation and make sure that the structure is governed by the teams most in direct contact with the market.
- Strategy: the right strategy depends on the ability to perceive reality. A shared awareness must be implemented through forums and meetings to integrate different perspectives and constantly challenge one’s strategy.
- Resources: it must be recognized that its employees are not resources but individuals capable of providing exceptional services without pre-established incentives or objectives. Furthermore, in a complex organization it is impossible to plan where to invest one year in advance, you have to allocate resources dynamically and in real time. For example, you can bring your team together and provide each member with a virtual monetary amount, finally ask them to invest it in one of the ongoing projects and discuss the results obtained.
- Innovation: its employees must be given the time to pursue personal projects even if not connected with their daily work, giving space for exploration at all levels.
- Work process: the work process must be organized around the work and not around the organization. One should not push for uniformity between the teams but must leave room for localized methods. The work process is supported by a structure that promotes the free creation of teams.
- Meeting: the structure of each meeting must be determined by its objective, choosing and privileging the themes once in the room. All those present must be given the opportunity to express their thoughts, for example by giving the floor to everyone at least once.
- Information: sharing information is essential, in this way responsibility and reciprocity are increased. In a complex organization, the dissemination of information at all levels produces a competitive advantage.
- Belonging: everyone needs a sense of belonging, both within the organization and the team itself, which creates more motivation and increases performance.
- Mastery: an environment that promotes personal growth and creativity will always be full of employees at the peak of their performance.
- Compensation: transparency on wages is an important step in creating an environment considered fair by all employees. For example, you can allow workers to set their own wages, in this way by implementing collective responsibility, or instead of providing incentives (counterproductive because they reward existing behavior), you can decide to provide a higher wage for the best talents.
If you accept that your organization is a complex system, you must also change your company’s change method
Usually to change the culture of your company you face the problem in a linear way, imagine the result you want and then try to bridge the difference between the current situation and what you would like, leaving little room for adaptation and creativity.
It has already been said that the organization is not a complicated but complex system, so what is the best method to modify this system? Experimentation, try different methods, verify the positive and negative results and enhance what works, just like in an evolutionary system.
For a successful change from a traditional company to an evolutionary one, six recurring patterns can be highlighted, not to be considered as a fixed program, but more as thresholds reached during the change.
- Involvement: individuals in power must be involved and engaged in change and must accept an environment full of autonomy: where members and teams are free to manage themselves, where all decisions are made through the informed consent of the parties affected by the choice and where information is accessible to all. Once the commitment of the leaders has been obtained, a team of “rebels” must be created, ready to abandon the bureaucracy and start the change.
- Borders: you need to create a “liminal space”, that is, an environment within the organization where the processes will begin to perform differently, a space where you can feel safe and free to experiment. Volunteers from the “rebel team” must feel safe and able to be autonomous in the “liminal space”.
- Preparation: Although most employees are frustrated with a system that doesn’t work, it doesn’t actually mean they already have a better working method in mind. Therefore we must first of all push them to think outside the framework and the daily processes to which they are accustomed, to promote a mentality devoted to learning and discussion. When this phase works, the growth of employee self-esteem and self-confidence is noted.
- Iteration: the iteration process begins with the identification of a “tension” by the team, for example the lack of transparency in the company, then we move on to the proposal of a solution. In the beginning it can be difficult for the team to be able to find an alternative to the processes and schemes that they have always taken for granted, it can therefore be proposed to start with a small change, such as removing a rule, a budget or a process. Finally, in the last phase it is time to put the proposals into practice with experiments, to create results that can provide data on the best practice to be adopted.
- Criticality: it is the point of no return, when there are enough employees engaged and involved in the new principles of self-management that it is impossible to return to the old system.
- Continuity: the new operating system belongs to everyone and must be perpetuated and continuously improved by everyone to adapt to changes.