While royalty is born to his or her station in life, ordinary people have to work to achieve a position of power. It is often difficult for individuals who have finally arrived to suddenly discover that the strength of their power or influence rests in the hands of others—usually the people they manage.
Middle and upper managers who were trained in the command-and-control management school understand that collaboration is important in today’s rapidly changing business environment. While providing lip service to the subject and sponsoring staff training sessions on collaboration, they still find it disconcerting, difficult and even impossible to give up their imperial role. What’s the fun of being boss if you can’t boss?
But there is a paradigm shift taking place that says the provincial, bureaucratic corporate pyramid has outlived its usefulness and that micromanagement is no longer feasible or desirable.
New Environment Forces Change
We operate today in a knowledge economy. In this environment, you cannot simply order people to work harder, smarter or faster and to ignore the information that surrounds them. Knowledgeable workers get their information from all sides, not just from the top down. If they were properly hired and trained, they should know more about their work than their supervisors.
Monopolistic managing does not work. People need to be encouraged and constantly reminded to adapt and be innovative. Effective individuals and teams that are empowered will drive the success of their separate organizations. If their collaborative efforts are not constantly encouraged, the organization's future is in jeopardy. But collaboration does not just happen—senior management must insist that it is carried out and practiced at every level, and they must also lead by example.
So why is collaboration in the best interest of your organization and your senior management? In today’s knowledge economy, companies have to realize that the real power, market position and strategic or tactical advantages are in the hands of knowledge workers—not owners or managers. The prime imperative for today’s leaders and senior management is to meet the needs of these workers.
Today’s Knowledge Worker
Knowledge workers have a number of choices as to where they work and the terms of their employment. Since 1985, 25% of the U.S. workforce has been laid off at least once. As a result, the bond between the organization, its management and knowledge workers is tenuous at best.
These knowledge workers want meaning and direction and a sense of significance and self-satisfaction. They expect trust in and from their leaders, and they are inspired by a sense of hope and optimism.
If the organization is not open to collaborative workflow that will take advantage of and nurture its intellectual capital, the company’s most valuable asset will find a position elsewhere—one that is more aligned with their personal and professional goals. When that happens, some portion of the organization’s intellectual capital is lost.
Our best risk-taking, results-oriented leaders are catalysts. They expect to achieve a lot, and they also know there is little they can do without the effort and commitment of others.
Take a look at the achievements of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Dell Computer’s Michael Dell and Kevin Rollins, GE’s Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt, and Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett. Each in their own fashion brought to their jobs the resourcefulness, risk-tolerance and discipline of an entrepreneur. But the common thread of achievement with these executives was their ability to recognize, employ and focus the men and women of their respective firms to tap into their need for self achievement and self worth. Without this ability, they would have been simply decent CEOs and good stewards of the investors’ company.
These leaders were able to generate intellectual capital for their firms—capital that isn’t shown on a balance sheet but is vital to the company’s growth and long-term prosperity. They understood the key to their success was selecting the right people, allocating capital resources and spreading ideas quickly.
Helping your knowledge workers is more difficult because to truly excel, management must make difficult decisions in short-time frames with imperfect data. They have to be able to think in the abstract and connect the dots when the lines are fuzzy at best.
Successful managers know that with imperfect information they are not going to be right 100% of the time. They know that ultimately they must take their best shot, but at the same time, they have to create a climate that tolerates missed shots.
The other option is a company mired in indecision, where control exists only at the top—a company that can easily be surpassed. Aggressive collaboration must be a priority with every manager in today’s knowledge-based business environment. Businesses must generate intellectual capital, and management must encourage and nurture it.
It may be difficult to admit after all of your years of hard work that being a king is not all it is cracked up to be, but it is important to remember that kings only remain kings as long as the kingdom thrives. Today’s business kingdoms only thrive in a collaborative environment.