I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the systemic issues that organisations face in the push/pull to increase the percentage of women on boards.
It is easy to see, from the outside, how the beast (perfect for a different time) now no longer serves us and if we had the bravery to change the system to one of innovation and accountability we might also change the system to one that diverse groups of people liked to work in.
Let me explain. The movement for scientific management began in 1911with the publication of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management. Taylor effectively invented management as we know it today: Improving the efficiency of individual workers, management by exception (only focusing on extremely good or bad results), task driven work rewarded by task driven bonuses. Modern management is still driven by the idea that a company is a system that must be managed at more than the level of the individual. This ‘system’ changed the course of the twentieth century and much of the prosperity that we now take for granted. However, it also introduced the idea that workers should be treated as automatons and part of the system.
Since then we have of course, evolved through various management revolutions, but still largely hold onto the idea that the system is superior. However, in the twenty first century we face a new set of challenges that simply cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that we relied on in the last century. In other words, at the beginning of last century we were concerned with increasing productivity, but now our ability to produce far exceeds our ability to know what to build or what to do. Our current challenge is overwhelm!
In my consulting work I have been stuck by how often I am coming across situations where people are putting off making decisions in case it is the wrong decision or the wrong time. We have the capacity to build and/or do pretty much anything, but making the decision about should it be built or done eludes us. This confusion, I believe, is a symptom of a system that no longer serves us. The beast that we fed in the twentieth century is about to die and a new agile, fast paced, innovative and people focused movement is evolving which will take us beyond hand-wringing and align us with an ever faster world.
How is this good for diversity? I believe that most forms of waste in innovation or waste in human capital is preventable once the causes are understood. All we need to do is be brave enough to change our collective mind-set away from the paradigm that exhorts workers to try harder. We have been trying too hard at the wrong things! By focusing on efficiency as the end goal we drop the most important predictor of our future success; to learn what we don’t know! Simple measurable methods can help create and build sustainable and diverse organisations. This means taking the focus away from the system and toward individual brilliance.
In an overly rigid system the business loses site of the adaptability, creativity and wisdom of individual workers. The over emphasis on procedure was relevant for a static world and a victory for routine over creativity, process over humanity and dogma over real learning.
The system is prejudiced and it promotes the superiority of upper class over working class and the superiority of men over women. In a fairer, more creative, lean movement, that takes projects out of systems and holds employees accountable to the only people who matter (customers), we will have more diversity. We will increase the number women on boards through building sustainable pipelines of people who are valued for their input and measured against a continual feedback loop that holds each person accountable to constant and never ending improvement in serving customers. If people couldn’t hide behind the system I wonder what people would actually do if we stopped wasting their time?
We have no real idea what’s possible if we were to unlock the potential hidden in our workforces, but I have some idea that more women might feel valued and appreciated in a new way of working in cross functional teams with clear methods for holding teams accountable for validated learning. Why do I say this? Because our research constantly shows that women are leaving our organisatons because of the ‘culture’.
The culture is created by the system. Create a system where nobody can hide and everybody is accountable and rigorously measured for creative input and you will have a true meritocracy instead of a system that keeps the wrong bums on the wrong seats and a lot of people inside their comfort zones. The new world is about the individual; individual customers and individual employees.
This is diversity!
Until next week, live with passion.