In 1995, I published a sequel to my best selling book, Reengineering the Corporation. That sequel, Reengineering Management, argued the work of management had to radically change - just as Reengineering the Corporation argued operational processes had to be fundamentally transformed.
In the nineties, I saw managers struggling with making major operational changes. As a “manager” myself, I understood the challenge. In Reengineering Management, I wrote the required change “is about us, about changing our managerial work, the way we think about, organize, inspire, deploy, enable, measure, and reward --- operational work.”
Today, the case for changing the way managers think and work is even more compelling. Training teams must focus as much on managers as the people who perform operational work. Enterprises - both for-profit and non-profit - are now faced with the need for operational and strategic change. Business models in many industries - take retail - are being challenged. “Disruption” is the word of the day.
If I were to rewrite Reengineering Management today, I would focus on three capabilities managers must have: an understanding of process and how business processes are now being technology enabled; the ability to both define and execute on a strategy; and a style that enables leadership to be practiced broadly throughout an organization.
After 25 years of trying to get managers to think “process” rather than “function”, I am struck by how little progress I have made. Managers are still trained to focus on business functions: planning, finance, manufacturing, logistics and sales. When managers go to “business school” that’s what their courses look like. They are taught to focus on fragmented work, not broadly.
Yet operational processes, that cut “horizontally” across business functions, are becoming more important than functions. Take “order fulfillment” for example. To satisfy a customer’s needs, there may be elements of product design, sales, manufacturing, and logistics. Managers need to be able to think across the functions of an organization and assemble tasks into high performing processes. Customers want to engage with intelligent business processes, not internally fragmented business functions.
And on the subject of intelligence, processes are increasingly becoming enabled by analytics and artificial intelligence. Large call centers will soon be replaced by intelligent bots trained to respond to customer needs. The process of “customer service” will become fully automated. A little further out, robotics will advance to handle the “process” of order fulfillment. Amazon already uses intelligent machines to select products off its warehouse shelves. Soon intelligent drones will drop those products on our doorsteps.
This is not science fiction. But as we have already experienced with bots that answer our calls for help, these automated processes can go badly wrong. Managers need to know what’s ahead and how to integrate these advanced technologies into the work of their organizations.
Strategy to Execution
Almost every organization - from large public companies to universities - is now undergoing some form of “strategic planning”. This is a response to the disruption happening across multiple industries. I have always encouraged managers to think of “strategy” from Peter Drucker’s perspective. Peter would tell his students that strategy is about “knowing where you are today, where you want to go tomorrow, and how you are going to get there”.
Unfortunately, many managers stop after the first two parts of the “strategy to execution” process. They proclaim where the enterprise must go in the future, but they fail to focus on the hard work of execution. Managers need to learn how to rethink the structure of their organizations, where and how work will be performed, and who is going to do that work. And they have to be inclined to action to be sure the right changes are happening.
What follows next is the need to monitor the performance of the organization as it changes, with relevant metrics and an understanding that organizations, even those that are heavily technology enabled, will remain a human enterprise - with all the good and bad behavior of people. Managers must be trained to appreciate that human behavior is an important part of strategic change.
Focusing on the execution of a strategy never ends.
Any program to train managers must include a component of leadership development. That component begins by answering two questions: what style of management will work best in an organization and can leadership be “taught” or must it be learned?
There is no shortage of leadership styles that have been advocated and written about. A few years ago, I joined a three day long discussion at the Harvard Business School searching for the intellectual basis of “leadership”. Those discussions led to the publication of an 800 page book, written by researchers and thinkers, each presenting their definition of leadership.
I keep searching that book to find the leadership style that best fits the time. Here’s my favorite: “Leaders are able to fulfill vital functions that help meet their followers’ needs for meaning, social order, group identity and goal accomplishment.”
Training managers to become leaders should no longer be based on a great man - or woman - theory. Managers must learn how to create an environment where everyone in the organization assumes some part of the role of leadership. Work today is already distributing decision-making across the organization. People have to know how and where they fit, how they add value, and what the organization expects to accomplish. A leader today must know how to establish a shared sense of purpose.
As you think about training managers to be leaders, the next question to ask is how much of leadership can be taught and how much must be learned. This reflects an age-old debate. I’m a believer that you can teach some principles of leadership and can engage managers in case studies that illustrate how those principles play out in real situations.
But there is nothing like putting managers into a succession of positions where they will be challenged. Leadership development is experiential. Give a manager something broken to fix or, better yet, something to build, and you will see that person grow.
Developing managers in this way will be a challenge for many training teams, but by understanding technology-enabled business processes, defining and executing on strategy, and developing leadership styles, ITOs can help organizations not only survive, but thrive in the future world of work.