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Can We Wait 3 to 5 Years for Change?

McKinsey Quarterly has an interesting article about the adoption of social technologies in business (you have to create a free account to read the whole thing). Honestly, the graphs and charts about social media use didn’t interest me that much (though it’s good to have some solid data in those areas), but the very last page interested me the most, because it talked about how our organizations are changing as a result of the adoption of social media. This is obviously a core theme in Humanize.

They asked the people in this survey (over 1400 responding) about which management processes they thought would be changing over the next 3-5 years as constraints in using social technology continue to disappear. 35% said that the boundaries between customers, employees, and vendors were going to blur. About the same percentage felt that hierarchies were going to flatten and teams would self-organize. Those were the changes that got the most agreement (even though it was only about 1/3 of the respondents). At the lower end of the scale, a smaller number of respondents (less than 13%) expected to see things like employees having a greater role in choosing their own leaders, peers having an impact on compensation decisions, and employees having more say in what tasks they get to work on.

At one level, I guess I am pleased that there are folks out there who have their sights set on these kinds of changes. These are the kinds of things we talk about in Humanize. We suggest some radically new ways of looking at compensation, urging companies to be more transparent as part of building trust both internally and externally. We talk a lot about what it means to “flatten” the hierarchy when we talk about cultures that embrace decentralization in open organizations. And we give examples, like Whole Foods that shares ALL of its salary and compensation data internally (yes, with everyone). Or W.L. Gore and Associates, where the employees are the ones who give out the “leader” title (which is the only title in the company), and they are the ones who take it away, too.

So yes, I am glad people are paying attention to it, but part of me is also quite disappointed by this report. There are solid examples of very successful companies who are already employing several of these ideas (and some of those examples are already several years old), yet only a small percentage of those surveyed could even agree that these things might happen sometime in the next three to five years!?!?

That’s a problem. While we are making progress in terms of identifying ways in which we need to change our organizations to become more human, we haven’t seemed to shift our expectations about how long organizational change takes. Over the last fifty years we have developed a certain “comfort zone” about organizational change, where we expect a process of identifying new ideas, trying them out slowly, measuring the results, and then maybe moving towards a large-scale change management process to make it happen. It takes time–like three to five years, apparently.

I’m offering a different hypothesis. Change does not need to take as long as we think it does, and it definitely doesn’t require as much worry and angst as we put into it now. I’m looking at social media and I’m seeing faster change, with less drama. I’m watching the development of new ideas–even new ideas related to Humanize, and I am seeing them build off each other faster. I feel like the sequel to Humanize won’t be written by Maddie and me, because everyone else will simply take what we’ve built and make the next leap.

There’s a lot we need to do to change our organizations to make them compatible with our 21st Century world, and maybe the first thing is to readjust our comfort zone when it comes to the speed of change. Let’s start by accepting that change will be swift and far reaching. That just might enable us to do it.



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artiegold May 23, 2012 at 7:16 am

Creating change is a slow process. Allowing it is a lot faster.

jamienotter May 24, 2012 at 5:27 am

 @artiegold Well said!

rhappe May 25, 2012 at 8:47 am

This is an interesting question and one of the biggest risk/issues for companies is that if they do not change fast enough, they will not retain the people and talent that understand where they need to go and how to get there. We are seeing this in spades right now and it is quite concerning to me in that I think the entire movement toward social business is at risk because of it.

maddiegrant May 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

 @rhappe agreed – I actually feel like the gap between the companies that are evolving quickly and those that are not can only get wider and wider.  Not sure what impact that will eventually have on everything!!

PhilipEdward May 29, 2012 at 10:01 am

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