#542  Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 12          December 2001

What Should the New Organization Look (and Think) Like?
by Ralph H. Kilmann, Ph.D.

Dr. Kilmann is a professor of Organization and Management at the University of Pittsburgh.  He is also president of Organizational Design Consultants, a firm specializing in business systems transformation (www.kilmann.com).  He is author of Quantum Organizations (Davies-Black, Palo Alto, CA, 2001).

In the movie 2001, the ship’s main computer, HAL, learned to read lips, think, and then act on its own.  In the year 2001, it is not a computer that could determine our well-being, but interrelated, interconnected mega-organizations that have taken on a life of their own.

Today, as we must increasingly depend on organizations and institutions to address all our social, economic, political, biological, psychological, spiritual, and environmental problems, achieving organizational transformation may be one of our most important challenges.

The Challenges

In the last century, specialization was the driving force of progress.  But this “divide and conquer” approach created stifling bureaucracy and widespread fragmentation.  Success now demands that people first see and then adapt to all the dynamic interconnections among new technologies, markets, organizations, and stakeholders—while embracing speed and complexity.

Today’s managers and executives must find innovative ways to meet the challenges posed by new information and its applications, globalization, rapid change, and intensifying competition.  This requires a new way of thinking.

Common Myths

One of the first actions in a company that intends to thrive is to ask which of today’s “truths” in business are actually “myths.”  Here are some common myths about business success and the truth about what is required for an organization to embrace this new thinking so it can enjoy future success.

Myth:  Work teams, departments, and even whole organizations should have an identifiable set of values, beliefs, and goals so that their individual members will feel a strong sense of camaraderie, team spirit, loyalty, and healthy competition.

Truth:  Such identification often controls how members think, see, and behave.  Them-versus-us bonding limits how members will define problems and where they will go to look for solutions.  In the new organization, active participants will maintain relationships with all others they have ever worked with before, including other subunits and those from past jobs.  Forming, developing, and sustaining both within-group and across-group relationships empowers organization-wide commitment and thus fosters a greater potential for system-wide collaboration.

Myth:  If designed correctly, performance appraisal, incentive, and promotion practices can be used to inspire and to positively motivate employees.

Truth:  In traditional systems, rewards are exchanged for results.  In the new organization, rewards are given for high performance, determined by behavior.  Thus, the very concept of pay-for-performance has to be redefined.  Furthermore, his new model requires members to self-design, self-implement, and self-regulate their own reward system.  External control, then, evolves into internal commitment.

Myth:  Surveys, discussions, meetings, and supervisor/employee one-on-ones are all important ways to keep the communication flowing in all directions.

Truth:  Unfortunately, when employees bring important problems to management in traditional organizations, management hears, but doesn’t listen.  This generally leads to frustration, anger, apathy, and eventually, passivity.  Until organizations address important underlying dysfunctions in their company culture, communication will remain superficial and ineffective, no matter how well intentioned.

Myth:  The new-economy debacle is proof enough that well-established, tried-and-true business models work best.  Newfangled change initiatives only reinvent the wheel.

Truth:  The likelihood of transforming an old, large, complacent, hierarchical organization into a revitalized, self-aware, self-managing, adaptive one is minuscule if management insists on clinging to what worked in the past.  Lightning-fast changes in the world economy, individual’s desire for workplace fulfillment, and complicated demands/opportunities of technology now require a radically different, integrated approach that overhauls the very structure of the traditional organization.

Myth:  There are leaders and there are followers.  Some employees don’t want to be self-initiated.  They need structure, and they like having defined roles and responsibilities.

Truth:  In authoritarian organizations, individuals become demoralized and passive.  When members are required to participate in self-designing and self-managing their own organizational systems, they will rise to the occasion.  The culture of the new organization is infused with creativity, self-awareness, self-motivation, change-responsiveness—and a sense of ownership along with exhilarating success.

Rewiring the Corporate Brain

Empowerment, re-engineering, organizational learning, and other change initiatives have attempted to offer practical solutions to this challenge.  But what has been lacking is a completely integrated approach for leading, managing, and organizing for the new millennium. 

Organizations are always searching for new ways to survive and thrive—for example, what does it take to create altogether new products and services that will capture more customers, gain market share, and dramatically improve profitability?  The questions are the same, but the answers have to be stunningly different now.  The solution is to rewire the corporate brain, to get managers and employees to “think out of the box.”

Quantum Thinking

Quantum thinking is the integration of the left brain (linear, verbal, logical thought) with right brain (holistic, visual, emotional) functions.  On a purely scientific level, when a person is faced with an intense, unexpected, unfamiliar experience, a rapid, chaotic firing of neurons serves to integrate left- and right-brain aspects of reality into a new—holographic—understanding.

Getting workers, teams, and then whole organizations to engage in quantum thinking is the first step to organizational transformation.  Quantum thinking:

  must be learned by all members if it is to become a new way of life for the entire organization

  must be firmly embedded in the culture so that new members are taught out-of-the-box thinking by their coworkers

  must be officially recognized and actively supported by the company’s reward system, so it counts.

Steps for Quantum Thinking

Quantum thinking can and must be learned, modeled, and taught in today’s organizations.  Its purpose is to provide new categories and relationships for resolving complex problems.  Here’s how it works:

1.     Select a key decision, action, problem, or challenge.

2.     List the relevant stakeholders inside and outside the organization.

3.     Write down the “hidden assumptions” for each stakeholder.  Hidden assumptions are all the things an individual takes for granted as true in order to believe that his or her conclusion is correct.

4.     Identify the most important assumptions.

5.     Identify the assumptions that are clearly false.

6.     Highlight uncertain assumptions (not sure if they are true or false).

7.     Collect information about uncertain assumptions.

8.     Rewrite important assumptions so they are both certain and true.

9.     Proceed with new assumptions—and a new mindset.

What is Achieved

Imagine an organization in which quantum thinking was imbedded in the workplace culture.  What would you have?  You would have a network of self-aware people, working in concert, conscious of each other’s goals, priorities, and needs.

Focusing on organizational transition at this level results in:

  Increasing interconnections among industries, markets, organizations, and organizational members

  Radically improved infrastructures, systems, and processes

  New levels of organizational success and economic value

  New heights of personal meaning, fulfillment, and enlightenment.

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