Four Ways to Identify and Address Organizational Concrete

“Inertia is often mistaken for patience.” Marty Rubin

According to futurist Raymond Kurzweil, 20,000 years of progress will be realized in this century. Practical ramifications include changes not just to strategic plans and organizational structures, but the premise of what plans and structures are made and enacted. Simplistic solutions like more frequent iterations of strategic plans are not likely to address this acceleration.

A barrier condition to the agile, flexible organization of the future is what I call “organizational concrete,” those things that hem in or prevent progress.

  1. Physical concrete. Buildings. Mechanicals. Furniture. Just as cloud is a welcome addition or replacement to on-premise technology, consideration of what physical vs. virtual infrastructure is needed for your organization is important. A good example are traditional universities, long known for expending capital and attracting donors to erect buildings. Too often the money for the one-time expense is considered, and the long-term expense of the building is glossed over, creating large amounts of deferred maintenance. Arguably, equal if not more should be spent on digital transformation and attracting quality, contemporary talent. Leaders should check the balance of investments to ensure balance and long-term sustainability.
  2. Culture concrete. Watch out for unwarranted “practice protection,” where people cling to outdated practices claiming they are core to organizational values. Practices are ways of working. Values are important beliefs and ideals. People attach themselves to practices because they perceive them to be essential to their jobs and roles. (Hint: The words “it’s always been done this way” are a clue.) Practices should be temporary and employees should be encouraged and rewarded for transforming or even eliminating practices. Values should be long term and similarly employees should be recognized for consideration of values in the swiftly-accelerating business climate. Example: Dedication to employee success is a value; hiring processes are a practice. Leaders need to establish clarity on the importance of values and the temporary nature of practices.
  3. Technology concrete. The adjective “legacy” becomes ever faster applied to technology. Not only do outdated componentry like operating systems and network equipment bring security risk, the business models associated with technology evolves constantly. “Cloud” doesn’t refer to a new technology, it refers to a plethora of choices to integrate with or replace on-premise solutions.  All organizations are digital organizations; it’s just a matter of how well they are doing the “digital” part. Too much legacy technology not only weights down IT resources and hinders innovation, it is also a red flag for cultural concrete. Outdated practices typically means digital has been insufficiently or incorrectly applied. Leaders should look at the rate of innovation enabled by technology in their organization.
  4. Strategy concrete. What are the processes and norms around strategy, planning and budgeting? If strategy is still updated annually by select executives,  “shelf ware” collecting virtual or actual dust on a website or in a binder, it needs an overhaul. Inclusive, flexible, agile strategy creation is a sign of a vibrant organization. Check planning and budget processes for the amount of administrative overhead they require. If it’s done the same way as in the early 1990s, you might want to ask why nearly three decades of progress hasn’t hit these core practices (see also #2 above). Leaders need to ensure that these functions aren’t a sign of large scale organizational inertia.

When seeing concrete, it can be tempting to wield a sledgehammer. True concrete is a building supply; organizational concrete can be made into Jell-O or Play-Doh by great leaders. If an organization’s physical, cultural, technology and strategy characteristics seem cemented, leaders need to think about turning concrete into more malleable substances.

“The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.” Mark Twain

Worth thinking about …

  1. My ears perked up when DNC emails were hacked. Cyber security will undoubtedly continue to be at the top of CIO, CEO and Board concerns. Articles I found interesting include this WaPo piece on the “limited punch” of cyber attacks, and this description of NATO’s concerns on cyber warfare.
  2. Went to see the “Jason Bourne” movie. If you’re an IT professional, the plot line around digital privacy was interesting. And disquieting.
  3. Great primer on BitCoin. Written with an eye towards education, but good reading for anyone wanting to understand how this technology might apply to any vertical.
  4. Loved this quote attributed to Kevin Spacey, the actor. “If you are lucky enough to do well, it is your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” #PayItForward


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