In a recent post I challenged everyone to consider innovating management, rather than just our products, services, or business models. We have come to expect innovation in our world in many areas, yet we are content to come to work and face practices and systems that are fifty or a hundred years old. This is a problem.

That implies, of course, that if we actually do management innovation, we will be solving a problem. Things will be better. There will be positive results. After all, if we’ve been using these management techniques for fifty years, who’s to say they aren’t responsible for the incredible growth in productivity and output in our economy over that time? True, I think “modern” management (which was invented in the early 1900s) did support the growth of our industrial economy, and maybe even the information age economy as well.

But I think it’s breaking down now, and there is evidence. We have a couple of really big problems, that hit almost every organization, across all industries. These problems spare neither large companies nor small ones. You see it in nonprofits and corporations. And even though we’ve known about them and have been trying to solve them for several years, they’re not getting much better.

The two problems are agility and engagement.

By agility, I mean our organizations are constantly complaining about not being nimble enough. We can’t keep our competitive edge. We can’t move when the market moves. We can’t respond to changes in customer preferences fast enough. It’s a good six to eighteen months into our decline before we figure out how to make a shift. We are not agile. And it’s not just strategy–we lack agility at the tactical level too. We stay shackled to our project plans and have  a hard time getting the real-time information we need to make tactical shifts. It means too many missed opportunities.

By engagement, I primarily mean poor employee engagement. I hear statistics thrown out at conferences all the time–only 20% or so of our employees are truly engaged at work, and up to 30% of them are actually actively disengaged (these folks don’t just hate their work, they are figuring out ways to sabotage it!). We give lip service to “talent management” and our employees being our greatest asset, yet we have data staring us in the face that our people just aren’t that into us. And we have similar problems engaging our partners, stakeholders, suppliers, members, etc. Across the board, we don’t know how to connect with others in a relationship that has true give and take.

So here’s my hypothesis. With management innovation, we can solve these problems. This is ultimately the core argument that Maddie and I make in Humanize. We don’t argue for more human organizations just because it sounds cool and makes sense with all our Matrix movie references. We advocate for more human organizations because our current management is horribly stuck in outdated, machine-like models.

Think about it. Agility and engagement are two things that machines are really bad at. Machines can’t change mid-stride. They are no good at give-and-take relationships. They were never designed to deal with the subtlety of context. In fact, we literally insulate our machines to protect them from the variations of different contexts. They minimize risk. They don’t learn.  That is why we constantly have these two big problems of agility and engagement in our organizations. Our machine-based management practices will NEVER solve them.

But if you innovate management using human-oriented principles, you’ve got a shot. We came up with the principles of open, trustworthy, generative, and courageous in part because these were principles that fueled social media’s growth. And social media, like humans, is really good at agility and engagement. That’s social media’s wheelhouse. In the book we talk in detail about ways to change your culture, processes, and organizational behavior to embrace these four human principles. When you start changing management in this way, I think you’re going to start solving the perennial problems of agility and engagement.

(Want to get started? We’ve developed a humanize assessment for your organization.)


Jamie Notter