A Unique Period of History

In their book, “The Individualized Corporation”, Sumantra Ghoshal and Christopher Bartlett (buy at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net) try to help readers understand the emerging reality of a connected new world of work by doing a brief historical review of some of the major shifts that have taken place during the last hundred years of corporate history. Top executives who have been around for a while are fairly united in recognising that they are leading their companies through a unique period of history. Here are some quotes from the book to illustrate the point.

“Among the most powerful of the external forces [converging in the 1980s to confront companies with the need for major transformation will change] were the exploding opportunities opened up by the globalising economy, the technological demands of shortening product life cycles and shifting technology platforms, the competitive imperatives created by converging industry boundaries and expanding alliance partnerships, the structural realignments dictated by large-scale deregulation and shifts in the location of strategic assets, and the internal learning capabilities required to succeed in a knowledge-intensive environment in the fast-emerging information age…. Managers were simply unable to adapt to the demands being placed on them by the new organisation. Not only with a new roles and relationships more complex and less clear, but the existing employees’ skills and experiences were often unequal to the needs of the new jobs…. By the mid-1990s, the managers of most large companies felt that their tool kits were overflowing and their apprenticeships had been served. Yet most remained confused about what it was they were creating. Worse still, the outcomes were disappointing: Many of the change initiatives have proven unsuccessful, and even where they had seen to pay off, they had not bridge the widening gap between the companies’ strategic imperatives and their organisational and managerial capabilities. The generational gaps persisted…. The problem with most of these tools and techniques is not that they are ineffective, for indeed most are quite valuable. The reason for their limited success is that they are inadequate for the huge transformational task at hand…. a company cannot maintain its momentum and effectiveness just by implementing a series of tune-ups on a corporate engine that needs replacing.

Therefore, rather than focus on the artefacts of the problems, we went to help managers understand their root causes. And instead of adding to the proliferation of prescriptive tools and normative techniques, we have developed a set of integrated ideas and a conceptual framework that we believe provides them with a mental map of the new corporate terrain…. Are not offering either a universal solution or a quick-fix prescription, we believe we can provide managers with a perspective that will allow them to make sense of the revolution in which they find themselves, as well as suggest some ideas to help them manage successfully through it.”

Transformation and change are the new realities, and no amount of quick fix solutions will give a company an advantage. Understanding why, not just what or how is no more critical than ever. Thriving in this new reality involves more than simply learning a new set of skills – it involves an overhaul of the whole way we do business.

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