It’s a new world out there. You’ll realize this truth if you open the windows of your organization and let in the sun. (You’d be surprised how many companies are run with the windows closed or with some sort of shutters, just to avoid this pernicious flow of sunlight.)
The current organizational climate is very different from the one of just a few years ago. This should be stating the obvious and shouldn’t need any explanation. But many of the changes and their impact have come to us at the speed of light – for a great part thanks to technology – compared to other economic, technological and political changes of the past. These days, people sometimes seem to be caught between the realization of the change and the semi-automatic reaction, all at once, all in one afternoon. This speed of changes has left us little time to reflect. The new has taken over in the blink of an eye, erasing the memory of the old almost instantly.
Having agreed that this is indeed a different game, the next question is: what kind of new skills and/or ‘new people’ are needed for this completely different story? Over the last few years, organizations may have done well in preparing their people, developing skills and competencies and building their own pool of ‘key talent’, as people like to call it these days. The football players are strong, well cared for, well-trained, well-dressed and well paid. One day, they run through the tunnel onto the pitch, with all the new hires in line and all their new gear, the excitement, the energy and the absolute will to win… only to find that the pitch is a basketball court. Great players, wrong game (or great game, wrong players)! This is my two-second diagnosis of many organizations where I am called in to help as an organizational consultant.
An alien just landed from Mars would be forgiven to think that there is an epidemic of blindness in many of these organizations. On one hand, there is an acknowledgement of the ‘big changes occurring’, but on the other hand, there is little change in the hiring practices, the organizational architecture or the development of people and skills. We carry on looking for the same sort of people, preferably somebody who ‘has done it’ before somewhere else. ‘Somebody with experience’… that is: another great football coach to launch into the basketball court.
In the now ancient re-engineering era, the following joke was often heard. Joe’s just been fired after 18 years of service. A manager says to that: “There goes Joe… just made redundant, 18 years of experience out the window.” To which the re-engineering consultant replies: “There goes Joe… just made redundant, one year of experience repeated 18 times.” Despite many toxic aspects of the re-engineering era, there is some truth to the joke. The only problem is that that assessment could also be applied to Mary and Peter and George who stayed in the organization. The re-engineering movement did not direct people to the basketball court; it only reduced the number of stewards, cleaners and bar attendants on the old football pitch.