This year, according to a study by Deloitte University Press, 77% of businesses globally are restructuring their organization.
Why would so many businesses do this at the same time?
Simply to retain – and empower – those employees capable of figuring out how to meet rapidly evolving market demands.
Learn from the Military
Gifted employees have the best insights into change because they’re among the consumers driving it. And, while the maturation of the largest generation since the Baby Boomers certainly has its impact, this isn’t just a Millennial phenomenon.
Today, most of us view hierarchical management structures with linear decision making channels as sources of risk, rather than bastions of stability. They’re not nimble. They don’t capitalize on everyone’s insights. Too much power is concentrated in too few hands. And it’s easy to imagine some agile young competitor effortlessly striding past it.
But as any owner or manager of a small or mid-sized businesses knows, shaking up your organization in pursuit of an intangible goal – like “becoming agile” – carries far more risk than potential.
That said, not shaking it up may carry more.
So the real question is how to do it right.
U.S. General Stanley McChrystal hit this zeitgeist in the bull’s eye with his best-selling book, Team of Teams.
McCrystal was a commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force confronting terrorist organizations in Iraq, but the book is not a war story. In fact, it begins with what Foreign Policy magazine calls a “tour de force of management theory over the past century.”
After watching Al-Qaeda’s highly irregular forces disrupt and defeat his regular ones, he came up with a radical solution.
Two parts of it can help businesses re-organize effectively.
The first has to do with information, and the second has to do with action.
He established an information center that collected all available data into one place. That may seem like centralization, but it wasn’t. The center served only one purpose, and that was to make sure that everyone had all available information in real time.
The center didn’t hoard it. The center wasn’t even responsible for interpreting it. All they did was disseminate it as fast and as widely as they could.
In this new organizational structure, data that the “center” might not understand, or that it might have discarded as unimportant under old-fashioned hierarchical command structures, was pushed out to teams on the ground.
To link that information to action, McCrystal decentralized authority.
Forces in the field were organized into teams, and those teams were empowered to act on their own.
One team might not find a given data point useful. Another might find the same point highly significant, making some connection based upon its unique experience. In fact, it might be meaningful because of a single individual’s insight, a point that’s important for small and mid-sized businesses.
Trust - And Watch
Under McCrystal’s new paradigm, the team in the field no longer needed to sell its interpretation up a chain of command. If they saw an opportunity, they were empowered to act upon it.
The result was dramatic. Al-Qaeda suffered losses and setbacks while the Iraqis consolidated. However, since McCrystal’s forces were withdrawing as he strengthened them, the story doesn’t end like a Hollywood movie.
Special effects do come into play in the analysis, however: “Technology enables shared consciousness,” Foreign Policy writes, pointing out that McCrystal’s method took advantage of every person’s insights, and empowered everyone to speak up and contribute.
That’s certainly a noble goal for business leaders as well, and in our experience it’s a critical attitude that attracts those gifted employees and keeps them engaged.
However, given the open-ended nature of business, teams can’t have complete autonomy to act upon their ideas. A platoon seeking a military advantage might eliminate a threat and call it a day. A business team needs to consider the impact of their actions on others in the enterprise, today and tomorrow, and ideally their actions should fit into the business’ agreed upon strategy.
Because of that, the Deloitte study found “two necessary roles and types of management: the administrative or talent manager (reflecting the traditional, formal structure) and the mission or project manager (representing the new, team-based structure).”
Gifted employees need autonomy when working on projects, but they also need to know that if they accomplish their project, they’re contributing to their business’ success.
Eyes On, Hands Off
The first part comes from within, and the second has to come from leadership.
McCrystal called it an “eyes-on / hands-off” approach. Businesses that want the advantages of “shared consciousness” need to have way to keep their “eyes on” what matters, even as they keep their “hands off” their gifted teams.
That’s why over three quarters of businesses globally are restructuring. They want to capture these benefits, and they worry what might happen if they don’t.
For small and mid-sized businesses, the best approach will almost certainly be based upon a proven process and a proven system. In order for an owner or CEO to feel comfortable with his “hands off,” he really needs to have his “eyes on.”
Meanwhile, the employees he’s trying to empower need to have an environment where they can develop that “shared consciousness” by communicating and collaborating independently. They want the freedom to act upon their ideas, but they also want to know that leadership has “eyes on” what they’re doing.
Deloitte University concluded that the “key to the success of this model is that each employee has a ‘home’ to which he or she can return.”
Results.com itself sets out to be that home, for employees and managers alike.