The world is moving so fast these days that anyone who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it. – Elbert Hubbard, 19th century American editor, lecturer, and essayist

My library is full of books chronicling, charting, and categorizing the major changes societies, organizations, and people are going through. My research notes tracking and detailing these changes run to over four hundred pages. After wading through endless models, “megatrends,” “change waves,” “powershifts,” and “new economies,” I have summarized today’s most significant changes:




Economic Growth Steady and predictable Erratic fluctuations
Financial Power Source Physical resources and capital Information and knowledge
Technological Change Evolutionary Revolutionary
Markets Mass Highly segmented
Communications Delayed, multi-staged, and controlled Instant, direct, and uncontrollable
Innovation Important Critical
Competitive Edge Size Speed
Customers Compliant, loyal, and forgiving Demanding, intolerant, and value-driven
Work Ethic Followership Shared management
Source of Authority Position Persuasion

What’s Been Wrong With Our Organizations

You can’t expect different results if you continue to do the same things.

Most organizations were designed — and managers were trained — for the conditions described in the “From” column of the above chart. When economies are expanding, competition is tame, and revenues are growing, it’s easy to confuse brilliant management with a bull market. Many entrepreneurs and managers are living proof of comedian and film director, Woody Allen’s observation that “eighty percent of success is just showing up.”

But most traditional organizations and management styles are now about as useful as tail fins, hula-hoops, and Nehru jackets. Here are the all too common bad habits, sloppiness, and problems that are seriously impeding the effectiveness of mediocre and failing organizations:

  • Up to fifty percent of product features and services don’t meet customer needs.
  • Departmentalism (vertical management), turf wars, and fragmentation of production, delivery, and support processes limit growth and effectiveness.
  • Customers are forced to dance the old familiar Bureaucratic Shuffle (the highly catchy chorus begins with “No, that’s not my department. . .”).
  • “Me-too” products and services play catch-up to missed market opportunities.
  • The organization is composed of layers of coordinators, organizers, error correctors, complaint handlers, auditors, inspectors, approvers, directors, overseers, expeditors, assistants, managers, and “snoopervisors.”
  • The workforce is disempowered, disconnected, and demoralized.
  • Service/quality levels are inconsistent (and generally slipping).
  • Production, delivery, and service support costs are stable or rising while revenues slip and other companies are lowering their per unit and per person overhead costs.

Organization Changes Needed

Though forecasting specific events is futile, becoming conversant in the growing technical language and comfortable with the evolving conditions and events that shape the future is an increasingly essential part of what management is and does. Managers who don’t make the effort, who don’t learn, and who don’t get comfortable with what needs to be learned will surely constrain their careers and hurt their companies.
– Ted Levitt, Thinking About Management

Predicting the future is a dangerous business. Many economists, futurists, and other seers who’ve peered into their crystal balls and proclaimed what is to come, have learned to eat ground glass. It’s difficult to predict the exact look and approach of those highly successful, 21st century model organizations that we’ll be studying in the years ahead. But the key elements of top performing organizations in today’s environment are clearly emerging. When you scratch below the surface, you’ll notice that these same characteristics have described many of our best-run companies for decades now:

  • Clear identification and segmentation of key customer groups and their expectations. This is followed with rigorous measurements to provide feedback on progress toward meeting those needs.
  • Permanent and continuous structural (rather than just “bad-times budgets”) and overhead reductions that lower per unit and per person costs.
  • Seamless structure and flow of work, information, products, services, and customers across the organization (horizontal management).
  • A highly involved, team-based organization with few management and administrative levels.
  • A sharp strategic focus (where we’re going, what we believe in, what business we’re in) and disciplined priority and objectives setting.
  • Continuous streams of innovative new products, services, and extensions that expand and add new value or use existing products and services in new ways.
  • Creating and leading new markets and exploiting growth opportunities.