Every new form of management, or organizational structure and model, contains all the old mechanisms of management and organizational models. Nothing per se has disappeared, what we see is trade offs. Hopefully, the trade offs are better and the ‘new’ is an advance.
It cannot be other way. Until robots replace us all, organizations are still formed by people. How Millennials behave, may be certainly different from how Generation X or Baby Boomers do, for example. It would be foolish today to talk leadership or management ignoring these generational differences. However, all of them still have two legs and a brain.
There will always be hierarchy. The question is what type. Big, small, benign, dictatorial, pick one. Even pure self-management, where ever this is in pure stage, has a form of hierarchy when decisions are made under some ‘decision rights protocols’. Eliminating top down dictatorial hierarchy means that hierarchy will surface in the form of a trade off: perhaps the one of teams, or project leaders, or the matrix. As I wrote a long time ago, about 15 years ago to be precise, it’s Kings or Cousins, but one of them.
‘Traditional man can sometimes escape the tyranny of kings, but only at the cost of falling under the tyranny of cousins, and of ritual… (Ernest Gellner, former Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge)
There will always be power dynamics. In the most democratic system, there is power struggles and trade offs. There may be benign or not, just or not, healthy or not, but there are. When I hear a client saying ‘we are not political here’, I hear alarm bells. Naivety? The most respected and avant-garde form of organization where relationships and networking get things done, is political. In fact, the more networked, the more political. Ignore this kind of (political) navigation skills at your peril. Authority has been traded off by ‘influence without authority’ (to quote a well known concept). This is politics.
There will always be rituals. The organization is held together by rituals. Rituals have a key role, and, frequently, it’s not what is apparent. Just as s simple example of many, the budget process in many organizations is a ritual. The declared, rational, managerial objective is to agree on a budget and a plan. The ritual holds people together, tests mechanisms of power, forces conversations, provides a platform for trade offs, produces wonderful internal Games of Thrones, and in general extends ‘unnecessarily’ a process that could be easily compressed. Most budget processes are highly inefficient and highly ritualistic. In the ‘new organisation’ there will be rituals. There may be different from the old ones, but they don’t disappear as long s we have an organization.
As Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer put it elegantly in a 2013 article, ‘You’re still the same: why theories of power hold over time and across contexts’
There will always be hierarchy, power and rituals in the organization. Whoever preaches no- hierarchy is misleading, disingenuous or populist.
And a note of warning. We are actually better equipped/trained to deal with a top down hierarchy that is visible, whether we like it or not, than the invisible, subtle and more non-hierarchical-looking forms of power and influence in the organization.
MBA is ok, but MON (Master in Organizational Navigation) is the real thing