Why are you running a race with weights on your ankles?

Last week I did a keynote address for the summer conference of Goodwill Industries, and in my presentations these days, fairly early on I suggest that we have a significant problem in our organizations today:

Management is failing.

Yes. It’s failing. The way we run our organizations, generally speaking, is simply not cutting it. Now, I know that when I say this, many people are silently disagreeing with me. You may be doing just that right now. I know it sounds a little sensational. I mean, when you look around you see lots of successful organizations, right? How could it be possible that management is “failing,” with all this profit being generated year after year?

Here’s the issue: our faling management doesn’t cause organizations to completely fail (usually), but it is slowing them down in a huge way. It’s like running a marathon with weights around your ankles. You can still finish the race. You could even beat some competitors (particularly when they have weights around their ankles too). You can improve your time from last year. By those measures, you’ll be a “successful” marathon runner

But you’re running with weights on your ankles!

You could be running so much faster, but ever since you were a kid, you strapped on those ankle weights because that’s how everyone did it (and still does it). You just never looked to see what the impact of wearing them really was. You stayed focused on your performance, which is laudable, but you were wasting potential all those years.

The same is true in our organizations, but in this case, the “weights on our ankles” is the rigid, mechanical, and control-oriented management practices that we have been using for decades. They make it hard for us to be nimble, and they make engaging employees and customers more difficult than it needs to be. In Humanize, we argue for embracing more human principles as we re-design our core management practices. In doing so, we’ll start to unlock the potential we’ve been wasting for decades.

And now we might have some new data to support this argument. McKinsey has a report out this summer about the social economy that concludes that knowledge workers could be a full 20 to 25% more productive if the organizations embraced social technology internally. I haven’t read the arguments behind that conclusion (and I’ll blog about it once I do), but I think this is really interesting. The more we look at this, the more we will start being able to articulate exactly what has been holding us back.



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