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Whole Foods, you will remember, long ago embraced the notion of community as an overarching management principle. To fully appreciate the power of a new management principle, you must loosen the grip that precedent has on your imagination. Painful as it is to admit, a lot of what passes for management wisdom is unquestioned dogma masquerading as unquestionable truth. How do you uncover management orthodoxy? Pull together a group of colleagues, and ask them what they believe about some critical management issue like change, leadership, or employee engagement.


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For example, if the issue is strategic change, you may find that most of your colleagues believe that. Empirically, these beliefs seem true enough, but as a management innovator, you must be able to distinguish between what is apparently true and what is eternally true. And yes, just about every story of corporate renewal is a turnaround epic with the new CEO cast as corporate savior. But is this the only way the world can work? Why, you should ask, does it take a crisis to provoke deep change? For the simple reason that in most companies, a few senior executives have the first and last word on shifts in strategic direction.

It usually takes a crisis to motivate deep change. As a management innovator, you must subject every management belief to two questions.

Cultivating a Robust Organization: 5 Stages of the Innovation Process

Second, can you imagine an alternative to the reality the belief reflects? Take the typical assumption that the CEO is responsible for setting strategy. Yet, if the goal is to accelerate the pace of strategic renewal or to fully engage the imagination and passion of every employee, a CEO-centric view of strategy formulation is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.

Is there any reason to believe we can challenge this well-entrenched orthodoxy? Look at Google. The company organizes much of its workforce into small, project-focused teams with only a modicum of supervision one Google manager claimed to have direct reports! Its developers post their most-promising inventions on the Google Labs Web site, which gives adventurous users the chance to evaluate new concepts.

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Few companies have worked as systematically as Google to broadly distribute the responsibility for strategic innovation. Its experience suggests that the conventional view of the CEO as the strategist in chief is just that: a convention. And when you hold other management maxims up to the bright light of critical examination, you are likely to find that many are equally flimsy. As old certainties crumble, the space for management innovation grows.

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Servant leadership. The power of diversity. Self-organizing teams. These are newfangled notions, right? Each of those important management ideas was foreshadowed in the writings of Mary Parker Follett, a management innovator whose life was bracketed by the American Civil War and the Great Depression. Vested with little formal authority and faced with the challenge of melding the competing interests of several fractious constituencies, Follett developed a set of beliefs about management that were starkly different from those that prevailed at the time.

As is so often the case with innovation, a unique vantage point yielded unique insights. If your goal is to escape the straitjacket of conventional management thinking, it helps to study the practices of organizations that are decidedly unconventional. With a bit of digging, you can unearth a menagerie of exotic organizational life-forms that look nothing like the usual doyens of best practice.

Imagine, for instance, an enterprise that has more than 2 million members and only one criterion for joining: You have to want in.

It has virtually no hierarchy, yet it spans the globe. Its world headquarters has fewer than employees. Local leaders are elected, not appointed. There are neither plans nor budgets. There is a corporate mission but no detailed strategy or operating plans. Yet this organization delivers a complex service to millions of people and has thrived for more than 60 years.

What is it? Alcoholics Anonymous. AA consists of thousands of small, self-organizing groups. AA may have been around for decades, but it is still in the management vanguard. Just how far can you push autonomy and self-direction in your company? Is there some set of simple rules that could simultaneously unleash local initiative and provide focus and discipline? Is there some meritorious goal that could spur volunteerism?

To that end, it makes microloans to five-person syndicates with no requirement for collateral and little in the way of paperwork. Borrowers use the funds to start small businesses such as basket weaving, embroidery, transportation services, and poultry breeding. As of , Grameen Bank had provided funds to more than 4 million borrowers.

Now, that would be a management innovation! That is, Woods is estimated to be three-and-a-half more times likely to lose than to win. The odds are probability estimates based on two kinds of data: the expert judgment of odds compilers and the collective opinion of sports-mad punters laying down their bets. Having set an initial price on a particular outcome, bookmakers adjust the odds over time as people place additional bets and the wisdom of the crowd becomes more apparent. Every day, companies bet millions of dollars on risky initiatives: new products, new ad campaigns, new factories, big mergers, and so on.

History suggests that many projects will fail to deliver their expected returns. Is there a way of guarding against the hubris and optimism that so often inflate investment expectations? An executive sponsor would set the initial odds for a project to achieve a particular rate of return within a specific time frame. Employees would then be able to bet for or against that outcome.

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If many more employees bet against the project than for it, the sponsor would have to readjust the odds. Who would have thought that bookies could inspire management innovation? Your challenge is to hunt down equally unlikely analogies that suggest new ways of tackling thorny management problems. You have some great ideas for management innovation. Start by answering the following questions for each relevant management process:. After documenting the details of each process, assemble a cross section of interested parties such as the process owner, regular participants, and anyone else who might have a relevant point of view.

This frustrates the flexible reallocation of resources to new opportunities. This severely limits the variety of strategic options your company considers. Perhaps the hiring process overweights technical competence and industry experience compared with lateral thinking and creativity. Other human resource processes may be too focused on ensuring compliance and not focused enough on emancipating employee initiative. The net result? Your company is earning a paltry return on its investment in human capital.

Of course, you are unlikely to get permission to reinvent a core management process at one go, however toxic it may be. That may mean designing a simulation, where you run a critical strategic issue through a novel decision-making process to see whether it produces a different decision. It may mean operating a new management process in parallel with the old process for a time. The goal is to build a portfolio of bold new management experiments that has the power to lift the performance of your company ever higher above its peers.


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Most organizations around the world have been built on the same handful of time-tested management principles. In the corporate ecosphere, there are little dinosaurs and big dinosaurs, rambunctious toddlers and tottering oldsters. But no company can escape the fact that with each passing year, the present is becoming a less reliable guide to the future.

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The Innovation Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

While there is much in the current management genome that will undoubtedly be valuable in the years ahead, there is also a great deal that will need to change. Therein lies the opportunity. You can wait for a competitor to stumble upon the next great management breakthrough, or you can become a management innovator right now. If you succeed, your legacy of management innovation will be no less illustrious than theirs. Organizational culture. Gary Hamel. February Issue Explore the Archive. To identify meaty problems, ask: What tough trade-offs do we never get right?

Challenge Your Management Orthodoxies Conventional wisdom often obstructs innovation. Scientific management time and motion studies 2. Cost accounting and variance analysis 3.