Corporate power is changing fast

Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets – Dr Paul Batalden

Moises Naim has written a book, The End of Power , in which he highlights that three trends are weakening traditional political power relationships in a range of political domains from sovereign states to other organisations:
– more: more people, information, resources, activity, etc
– mobility: unprecedented mobility
– mentality: new mindsets and expectations driven from new values and expectations

These three factors are also likely to drive dramatic power relationship changes inside corporations in coming years. Corporate politics is just human politics writ small. More than ever employees, customers, suppliers and communities are leveraging these three trends to challenge hierarchical models of power that trace back to the founding of modern corporate structures.

Social media internally and externally connects more and more people and supplies an escalating volume of information. The edicts of senior managers no longer stand alone. Consumers, partners and employees may well be better connected and have more information on what’s going on than the executive decision maker.

The Internet has accelerated the ability of customers and employees to be more mobile and to engage in new relationships with a corporation. Alternatives are now much more easily found and individuals have greater power to make their own choices or even solutions to needs. Voice is an increasing option where once the dissatisfied had only exit to choose.

These trends will only accelerate the already shifting values and expectations in employee careers and consumer purchase decisions. The employee and consumer expectations of a two-way & values-based relationship is likely to increase. Organisations and leaders will find themselves more accountable for their own rhetoric.

Leaders need to recognize these changes and begin to adapt to new models of leadership. Many leaders bemoan the limits of their status and hierarchical power today. The traditional ability to order technical change is simply less effective in complex adaptive situations. The trends that Moises Naim identifies are only likely to increase the number challenges corporate leaders face that exhibit these characteristics. We all need to start learning new ways now of adjusting to new leadership styles that are more two-way, more adaptive and based more in the strength of authority, not role. The rewards of these new models will come in purpose, engagement and the ability of enabled employees, consumers and partners to innovate.

The leaders who adapt first to these changes will hold distinct advantages over those who cling to traditional models of leadership. Which would you rather have a begrudging captive or a loyal follower?

Speak up

So is ignorance an impediment to progress or a precondition for it? In a recent New Yorker article Malcolm Gladwell discusses Albert O. Hirschman’s work on how creativity can be driven from our efforts to recover from ignorance

Many entrepreneurs strike us as remarkably naive. They dared to act whether others saw only risk.

Hirschman wrote the book Exit, Voice & Loyalty, that I read in a long ago economics degree. I would recommend Hirschman’s book to anyone as it is short, an easy read and amazingly insightful as is discusses the choices of consumers, community and employees to agree, exit or speak up.

That book was a revelation to me because it helped me to clarify that there was a powerful path between acceptance and refusal. There is another path between buying or selling. You don’t have to choose only to stay or exit. You can also speak up for change. Usually it is only when people speak up that the system is able to understand the meaning of the otherwise silent & often missed exits.

Reading Exit Voice and Loyalty led me to the opinion that it is usually better to make your first choice to find some way to speak up or make change happen from within the system. There are only so many opportunities for exit or acquiescence. At some point, we all need to shape things in our world. We can all do this more.

Speaking up gives others the chance to respond to your needs or concerns. Speaking up defines the unnoticed issues. Speaking up is not without risk and conflict. In many cases, it demands the creativity or the naïveté of the entrepreneur to safely make your point and generate change.

In an age of technology to enable collaboration and social interaction, we all need to accept that more connected consumers, communities and employees have many more means to express their views. As voice moves from rare to common, these stakeholders will increasingly prefer voice to slipping quietly away.

We should hope that voice is the growing preference too. After all, losing the support of others is a form of feedback, but not particularly useful feedback.

Speak up and encourage others to speak up too.

Have a Point of View

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The organisation for which I work expects its leaders to have a point of view.  Our people, our customers and our community expect that leaders in large organisations take the time to understand what is going on, to see trends happening in the business, economic or social environment, to develop their own perspective and to discuss and act on their point of view.  This is something all leaders should take the time to do and discuss.

The ability of leaders to have a point of view and engage in discussion on topics a long way from their daily work domain might seem unusual to some.  However in an environment where there is a lot of change and disruption, it is a necessary skill and delivers real benefits. You might be surprised how much conversation your point of view engenders.  

A point of view enables others to understand you, your values, your perspectives and your purposes.  A point of view is also another way to ‘work out loud’, attracting others who share or oppose that view.    Each of the resulting conversations deepens the insights, builds trust and fosters speed in collaboration.

Your thoughts and opinion matter so invest a little in developing and sharing them:

  • understand your perspectives, values and purposes – put them down on paper and discuss them with others 
  • find new ways to share your point of view, particularly with new audiences – use social media like a blog or a form of microblogging, but also share those thoughts through customer and team meetings, lunches, seminars, talks, conferences and other opportunities to engage.
  • view any reaction as a sign that you are saying something worth discussing and seek to understand feedback and different perspectives.

Have a point of view.  Nothing, especially you, is too insignificant to be a part of your point of view.