To say that the world has changed over the last 25 years is a colossal understatement. We've experienced various disruptions - the internet, smartphones, tablets, apps, the cloud, electric self-driving cars, drones, virtual reality, and the list goes on.

Not only is the world changing, but the rate of change itself is accelerating: innovations move from concept to daily life at an ever-faster pace. As a result, people and society often struggle to adapt, attempting to adjust social structures and norms to keep up with technological advances - Just think social media and new realities of modern parenting, email inbox overload, or the new technologically-enabled landscape of political campaigning. As early as 1970, Alvin Toffler described these dramatic, disruptive changes as Future Shock which others have since recognized as exponentially accelerating in pace and impact.

What's been shockingly neglected, though, is the associated impact on people within organizations, not to mention on organizations themselves. Speed and agility are clearly 21st century business success factors, but most organizations struggle to keep up with - or stay ahead of - emerging technologies, shifting business models, and global competition.

Sure, organizational "transformation" initiatives are all the rage today. But more often than not, they focus on rearranging the deck chairs versus truly transforming the organizational model. Even when the strategic marching orders are clear to people, getting everyone aligned and moving forward in unison on a shifting landscape remains a significant task.

As a result of all this, one of the future's greatest threats to business success is something I call organizational lag - the inability to adapt, in lock-step, with the rapidly evolving external environment to remain competitive. This is essentially the concept of Future Shock extended to the organization. And when organizations move too slowly, they become susceptible to disruption - just think Kodak, Blockbuster, Blackberry, to name but three.

The various causes and symptoms of organizational lag are painfully ever-present and getting worse by the day:

  • The average worker receives an overwhelming 122 emails per day
  • Managers spend over two full days in meetings per week
  • 80% of leaders struggle with executing projects that require cross-functional alignment
  • 95% of all employees don't understand their company's business strategy
  • 70% of all organizational change efforts fail

Traditional organizational models, especially those based on rigid management structures and hierarchies that gate-keep information and communication, only exacerbate these problems.

It's clear that the whole concept of "organization" is ripe for reinvention. A fundamental change in how people communicate, coordinate, and collaborate is required to avoid organizational lag and continually innovate products, services, processes, customer experiences, business models, and the organization itself.

Regardless of industry, companies that embrace and redesign their organizations around the following six principles will increase their ability to preemptively shape the future versus be disrupted by it:

  • Collaboration Frameworks - The ability for teams, workgroups, departments, business units, and entire organizations to form and re-form networks of all the right internal and external players around shared goals, processes, and metrics no matter how small or large the scale.
  • Modular Best Practices - Best of breed tools, templates, and processes that can be instantly accessed and configured to jump start any project or initiative.
  • Filtered Visibility - Transparency of the most relevant business processes, metrics, and status across inter-dependent projects and work streams in ways that surface what's important at the right moment in time.
  • Always-on Insight - Qualitative and quantitative data, analytics, and intelligence to support rapid decision-making and alignment around a "single source of truth."
  • Push-Pull Communication - A balance between communication pushed out via traditional tools like email and information naturally embedded into everyday work that doesn't feel like extra effort to access and respond.
  • Anytime External Guidance - Instant access to the most relevant global experts' knowledge and guidance to enhance the effectiveness of specific strategies, processes, or tasks

While these principles are ideal-type archetypes, business leaders, technology providers, and researchers can explore solutions around these future success factors.

As Einstein said, "no problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it." Traditional hierarchical organizations represent last century's consciousness. Business leaders need to stop rearranging deck chairs. The winners in the future will adopt new organizational models that merge social networks, business strategies, and technology in ways that truly transform work.

Published on: Aug 15, 2017