Letting the human centric organization emerge

4 years is a big span of time, especially in technology. That’s exactly how long ago our research surfaced the first evidence of a new organizational breakthrough that went well beyond pure employee collaboration and engagement.

In Exploring the Quantum Leap, I had clustered market collaborative maturity in 3 + 1 categories, from a “deploy and pray” immature, technology first and purely experimental approach to the “connected organization”, where social networks and communities acted as the strategic glue for a more fluid and knowledge-centric company. A paradigm shift from a less or more pervasive collaboration to an entirely new kind of human centric organization was indeed depicted at the top of pyramid:

More a gut feeling than a comprehensive identikit of such a enlightened organization, in that post I had suggested some characteristics for what was going to come, including an increased focus on shared value, team autonomy, transparency, collaboration and agility. Such warning signs notwithstanding, I was reasonable sure that only a marginal fraction of the market was already working towards similar outcomes.

Fast forward to 2018, the human side of the firm seems to have become a central concern for many executives, managers and average employees. Asterys, the global organizational development firm lead by Giovanna D’Alessio e Stefano Petti, just published “Organization 3.0. The company of the future” aimed at investigating such transition and especially the level of awareness and appetite the market has for it.

When asked to imagine the ideal firm of the future, 800 professionals and leaders across Europe and US provided inspiring insights about how a mounting level of complexity, uncertainty and continuous change is reshaping foundational aspects of the company such as strategy, decision making, coordination, information sharing, performance management and rewarding.

The most interesting predictions participants offered are:

  • CROSS SILO COLLABORATION – Collaboration will cut across team and department boundaries according to 71% of respondents. This expectation is stronger for executive millenials (88%) and leaders (>80%) in large organizations (>50K employees).
  • DISTRIBUTED DECISION MAKING – Decisions will be decentralized to teams at the periphery of the firm and executed according to shared values. 54% of participants are convinced employees and not managers will have the ability and a supporting environment to take risks and make autonomous choices at the nearest point of contact with customers and partners. According to 59% of the sample, the team will be the preferred locus of decision making and, to another 55%, this will happen by following a common set of guiding principles.
  • TOTAL TRANSPARENCY – A free flow of information appears as a required factor to thrive in a constantly changing environment. 64% of the respondents believe access will be granted to all the available information across functional silos, hierarchical levels and political fiefdoms. 25% expects it to also include sensitive data such as financials and compensation.
  • SELF MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATION – Teams will be self-directed and self-managed without any hierarchy or boss. 48% of the sample (but 61% of participants between 25 and 35 years of age excluding US and UK) remarks that each team will define its own strategy and objectives. According to 52% of total respondents, the control pyramid is out of time and more than 36% of managers and executives imagine teams with no boss.
  • SIMPLIFICATION – An extreme simplification of bureaucratic processes and systems is envisioned by 59% of overall respondents and by 70% of executives, in order to unlock both agility and employee motivation.
  • SMART WORK – Work won’t be limited to the office, if 77% of the sample considers the physical workplace as just one of the many possible locations from which work is performed and 36% explicitly sees it as useful only in specific occasions (the opposite of what holds true today).
  • STAKEHOLDER CENTRITICY – Employees, partners, vendors, suppliers will broaden the current focus on customers for 54% of the respondents (80% in Spain).
  • CONTINUOUS TEAM FEEDBACK  – Annual performance appraisals will give way to fluid, peer to peer feedback according to half of the answers. 23% of them also reposition reviews from the individual to the team level.

Asterys recently launched Aequacy, a new organizational model that builds on the outcomes of this research. You are definitely invited to have a look at it and to the new book under the same name.

Two thoughts really stand out for me. Before all else, this is, at the best of my knowledge (but please point me to other sources in case I’m wrong), the first quantitative study on human centric organizations.

It was very much required and, while the team delved more into the salient traits of a future looking organization than into the current market maturity regarding them, its results are definitely surprising in terms of the current level of curiosity, awareness and perceived need for nothing short than a revolution in the way work is design and performed. In other words, a much needed work for a much needed change!

As a second consideration, reaping the benefits of such a long term transformational journey will require a deep rethinking of the very basic principles our organizations are built upon. During the years, a multitude of competing models and networks have gained notoriety. Holacracy, Sociocracy and Sociocracy 3.0, Teleocracy, Beyond Budgeting, TealBetaCodexOrganizational Democracy, Modern Agile, Responsive Orgs, Self Management Institute are only a few of the options available.

While each stresses different aspects (and none in my opinion all the required ones), the analysis highlights a growing desire for “extreme solutions” that even new frameworks tend to miss. As an example, both Sociocracy and Holacracy are still suggesting hierarchical structures (not of individuals but of roles) in which some of the responsibility of a team (allocating resources, assigning individual to roles, representing the purpose, defining strategies and priorities) is centralized and positioned outside the team (through the lead link, a non elected role), thus severely limiting employee motivation and autonomy. On the contrary, participants to the study envision the end of any top-down dependency or control and, at the same time, an ecosystemic-like idea of the firm that opens fluid and autonomous coordination well beyond traditional company boundaries, in order to engage all stakeholders as peers.

Looking back at 4 years ago, I feel the collective awareness of how we want the world of work to evolve has dramatically improved. Hundreds of pioneering organizations and innovators are experimenting with, tailoring and refining exciting new models to address the constantly shifting needs of their stakeholders. But awareness doesn’t bring far without confidence. Their successes and failures are a source of inspiration for us all, while we accelerate the search for the missing tiles of this human / organizational puzzle and especially for the instructions about how to put them together.

Emanuele Quintarelli

Social media enthusiast and Social Business Leader in EY. Research, reports and reflections about the introduction of web 2.0 inside the enterprise.

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