To a great extent companies and their markets are dependent on how they create their infrastructure. Over the last few decades, one thing has dramatically changed in particular: the infrastructure of communication, later called “digital infrastructure”. On a global level, this means one thing above all else: Everything is more complex and at least potentially faster. Many things dramatically change in no time. This is called “disruption”. In order to not lose modern potential to cumbersome workflow processes, companies must become more agile. They must react quicker to changing situations, engage in crisis management and question rigid workflow schedules. Managers can no longer just issue orders, but instead must become creative. Leadership has to build human relationships.
How Puppeteers Restrict their Puppets
Managers mean well: clear directions, strict guidelines, exact specifications. Even in companies that call themselves flat hierarchies, there are often unreasonably powerful “strings” that managers or steering committees use to control their employees. Why exactly? It is clear that an intern cannot manage the expansion in Asia. But new positions are purposefully filled with competent, hungry people. If a department head allows more self-organization, unexpected potential is often set free. Employees are grateful for trust and responsibility.
VUCA, the acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, is more often used as an excuse to rule even more ‘from above’, although it is meant to be an incentive for the opposite. The human factor is not a negative factor. A company can only become agile if it stops pulling on limiting strings everywhere. Agility is the answer to rapid change.
What are the Strings that Limit Agility?
Things that we are forced to do we do less efficiently than things we want to do. When managers release pressure and create a positive corporate culture, employees work more independently and handle complex work in teams. Why carry out a meticulously planned interview and selection procedure for a qualified worker, when this worker once engaged is met with toxic distrust from the very beginning? The difficulties summarised under VUCA can only be tackled with “soft values” not found in a balance sheet. Then the ‘hard’ key figures will add up again. In practice, this could(!) mean:
- remove unnecessary advanced knowledge at management level, allow employees access to all meaningful information
- give employees an equal percentage share of EBIT over all hierarchies and departments
- management discussions with all employees
- abolish time clock systems
- actively seek feedback – expand TQM
- streamline reporting
- key associates choose department heads
Such measures differ from company to company and can never be taken as a checklist.