There’s probably no tougher—and no more important—question on the plates of leaders today than: are you capable of changing as fast as the world is changing? In a world where change is relentless, multifaceted, and occasionally shocking, is your organization constitutionally adaptable?
Meaning: are you capturing more than your fair share of opportunity? Do you frequently surprise your customers and your competitors? Do you attract more than your fair share of the best talent out there? And are those people passionate and deeply committed to the organization’s purpose? Is there a high ratio of innovation and value added per employee? These are tough questions, and there are very few leaders in very few organizations who would say they’ve cracked the code on all of the above. But no leader is exempt from wrestling with seriously with them.
That’s starts with understanding the nature of the challenge. The “modern organization” wasn’t designed to be adaptable. It was built to solve for very different challenges than we face today—to maximize standardization, specialization, predictability, and control. Of course, that’s exactly the wrong design when it comes to unleashing individual’s full imagination, initiative, and passion—those human gifts that are in so much demand today, but can never be commanded from on high.
So, what’s the right design? Well, it starts with asking some very different design questions: Is your organization built to amplify human capability? To multiply the impact of human accomplishment? Are you focused on mobilizing and aggregating contribution (wherever it comes from) in ever more powerful ways?
Those questions were at the heart of the Unlimited Human Potential M-Prize we launched with SAP. We wanted to create a discovery engine for the most progressive practices and boldest ideas when it comes to unleashing human potential. The results—over a hundred entries from every kind of organization from every corner of the globe and seven extraordinary winners—offer up a short course in the future of work.
One of those winners, Mario Kaphan, the founder and CEO of Brazilian e-recruiting company Vagas.com, offered up a singular design for a radically open, free, and entrepreneurial organization. In his winning entry, Horizontal Management at Vagas.com, Kaphan describes the company’s fifteen-year experiment in managing without managers. Vagas.com has no hierarchy, no titles, and no formal rules. Individual “members” enjoy a remarkable degree of autonomy and collegiality (the mantra is “individuals are empowered to do whatever they want BUT everybody has everything to do with that”). All work is done in small, self-managed teams, and decisions are made via reasoned debate and consensus—an initially laborious process that all members practice daily and that yields powerful results in terms of alignment and agility.
Another winner, Alanna Krause, a leader of Wellington, NZ-based Enspiral, a path-breaking collective of professionals and social enterprises, described how she and her colleagues are disrupting just about every core management process—from decision-making and direction setting to budgeting—one by one. Her winning M-Prize story, Collaborative Funding: Dissolve Authority, Empower Everyone, and Crowdsource a Smarter, Transparent Budget, recounts the development of Enspiral’s approach to collaborative budgeting. Krause not only describes the development of a visually engaging, intuitive, and flexible approach to budgeting—an app called Co-Budget that started out as a shared spreadsheet—but also the resulting increased transparency, agency, big-picture thinking, and surprising generosity that emerges when you involve everybody in deciding on where and how to spend resources.
You can meet Alanna and Mario, along with a rich mix of pioneering leaders, courageous hackers, and agenda-setting thinkers at the MIX Mashup in New York City, November 18-20, 2014. We’ll be exploring such big questions as: How do we (finally) kill bureaucracy? How do we change the way we change? What does it take to embed innovation as an everyday, every person capability? How do you hack management? And we’ll be celebrating the M-Prize and offering up lots of opportunities for participants to learn from the most progressive thinkers and doers inventing the future of organizations. Please join us in New York.
For more information on how to book Polly Labarre for your next event, visit premierespeakers.com/polly_labarre.