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Managing in the Networked Society

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More and more now value is created through connected organizations and individuals using seamless collaboration across boundaries, claimed agile coach and trainer Giuseppe De Simone. At the same time however, many companies are still influenced by management practices invented in 19th century. A paradigm shift is needed to successfully manage in the networked society.

De Simone spoke about Managing in the Century of the Networked Society at the Agile Greece Summit 2016, in which he presented three management mind shifts needed to create leaders in the face of current business challenges.

InfoQ spoke with Giuseppe De Simone after his talk at the Agile Greece Summit about how the networked society impacts the way organizations can be managed, and how autonomy and alignment support each other, and finally asked him for advice to companies that want to adapt their management style towards the networked society.

InfoQ: What do you mean by "networked society", and how does this impact the way organizations can be managed?

Giuseppe De Simone: With the term networked society I mean a newly shaping-up world, where everything and everyone who benefits from being connected is being connected; a world where daily innovations, collaboration beyond boundaries, more interdependencies in the eco-systems are profoundly modifying the ability and the way people and enterprises create value. What is true today was barely thinkable 5-10 years ago.

On the other hand, many companies are still influenced by management practices invented in 19th century for achieving totally different purposes, rather than thriving in a fast changing complex landscape. It is like trying to stream a video using an old 64 kpbs modem connection.

The result is normally that both business and employees suffer.

This question has been bothering me for many years: how can we believe that the way we managed in the past is still effective?

InfoQ: How do autonomy and alignment support each other?

De Simone: There is no creativity without constraints and there is no self-organization with an intent without boundaries.

Likewise, autonomy and alignment support each other to reach an intended vision by letting individuals and teams decide how to get there. The more alignment you get in the WHAT, the more autonomy is possible regarding the HOW. One of the problems in traditional organizations is that they are pretty loose about the WHAT, so managers tend (or are forced) to over control the HOW.

In my presentation I talked about the effectiveness of team goals in progressing towards solving the dichotomy of aspiring team centric organizations with traditional individual performance management processes. In this context, teams can self-determine their goals, within an aligned frame which can provide consistency in terms of values and business goals.

The frame we developed is called Agile Amplifier (AA). This tool lists desired skills and behaviors for effective and functional teams and individuals in the ecosystem of an Agile organization. Each team self-evaluates in comparison to those skills and behaviors, identifies strengths and improvement areas and then picks 2-3 top things they want to work on for the coming 3-6 months, before re-assessing themselves. Some teams are following up their goals and improvement actions by using an AA board as showed in the picture.

InfoQ: If a company is looking for ways to adapt their management style, what advice would you give?

De Simone: Every context is different, so simply copying from others will not work. However, based on the empirical evidence I collected both in the organizations I coached and in others I observed, below are three management mind shifts needed to become the leaders which current business challenges deserve. I have also gathered some patterns which proved to be effective in triggering the different mind shifts.

1. FROM Excluding themselves from the change TO Taking ownership of the change

How to trigger this mind shift?

  • Challenge your leadership team to ask themselves why they want to change, to adapt their management style; what is the problem that they are trying to solve. If there is no "why", they’d better not start the journey at all. But if there’s a why, this is normally very much related to business goals; so if this is needed to help them achieve their business goals, they cannot avoid truly understanding it and being on board.
  • Encourage learning in different ways: Training, Management Communities of Practice, Self-study. Knowledge is important so that managers are prepared to address the challenges that for instance Agile principles and practices quickly expose.

2. FROM Command-and-control TO Servant leadership style

How to trigger this mind shift?

  • Try to listen to managers’ fears with compassion and suggest to try different behavioral patterns instead.
  • Try to visualize the benefits of running things differently, also via organizational retrospectives or collecting feedback from people. Since they probably never had a real examples of 21st century leadership before, I usually look for some innovative manager who might be more open to work closely with me, so that she can act as an internal change agent in the Leadership team. I encourage peer support and peer coaching and, of course, I commit myself to "walk the talk".

3. FROM Managing People TO Managing the System

Traditional managers have an idea of Product development as a machine and completely miss the fact that it is more belonging to the domain of creative activities and has the nature of a complex adaptive system. So they tend to organize the work in compartments and try to maximize the efficiency of each single box, believing that high utilization of highly specialized resources can maximize the output of the process. The only result they achieve is sub-optimization, very fragmented work, task switching and silos thinking, which usually leads to continuous fire-fighting and very demotivated people.

Most of the traditional managers I know tend to have project thinking. They are very much short term focused: they aim at closing action points, instead of building people and organizational capabilities.

How to trigger this mind shift?

  • Offer thinking tools to support their decisions and teach them to see the whole system.
  • Encourage the dialogue to create new mental models.
  • Suggest the use of proper metrics to shift the focus on things which matter to achieve the business needs, away from doing things generated only by internal needs.

Resilient companies in a world changing at an exponential pace are enabled by managers who build a culture of discipline and excellence, guide on principles and values instead of giving complex rules to follow, challenge people to high performance and lead by example. They empower people to choose how they want to work and give room for safe-to-fail experiments.

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