How to build a business – Radical Management

I just watched an episode of Law & Order, an American crime series. It always ends in the courtroom, with a jury in charge of convicting or acquitting the suspect. Juries made me think of a book I read a while ago, written by Stephen Denning, called “The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management”. The essence of the book is: in a business where cognitive skills are important, forget the hierarchical forms of management that we have adopted, where most people have become uninterested, unproductive, where no one takes real responsibility and where clients have become an afterthought. Instead, if you want innovation and results, work in small self-organizing teams, much like a jury is organized (hence: Law & Order). A jury is a diverse group of people, with the power to make their own decision and the responsibility for solving a problem.

Denning is making the case that work has become a system of things that can be manipulated to produce goods and services, and it is not working anymore. Instead for productivity and innovation, you want to work on something you love, with people who share this excitement, to the delight of others, and getting better and better at it.

Looking back we all have one or two memories of project we did with a team just like that, and usually we are still seeing the people who were part of the team, even if we worked together years ago.

If there is any measure of success of what we are doing at Qhuba, it would probably this: that we work like this every day and that we are delighting our clients and making them  successful because of it.

In the last few days I had dinner meetings with a client, with a prospective associate, with an Associate (Beatrice Friebel) that joined recently and with a Partner (Jos Schreurs) that joined two years ago, and they al had similar experiences and examples, and for all of them the people, the urge of working together without the hierarchy were the reason to join or engage our company. Not money, not a perfected system,  not even the network, but the people. In fact all of them, including he client, volunteered to invest some of their own time to work in small teams on topics that interest them, like knowledge management, developing propositions or no-cure-no-pay M&A cases.

With the growth of our business, some form of hierarchy has creeped in, some bureaucracy, procedures, frameworks, measurements. Some of it might be natural and necessary, but instead of allowing it to grow and to become a system that does things to people, I will put all my energy in making sure we do things with people and:

  • Focus on our stakeholders that is: on people – both clients and Qhubans – and try to outperform all the expectations they have
  • Focus on delivering real change in small iterations to those stakeholders
  • Learn what is real and realistic by operating in complete transparency and requesting early and frequent  feedback
  • Accept that we cannot predict everything, but focus on solving the mystery (keeping in mind the whole system, with a direct link to the strategy), rather than focussing on small pieces of the puzzle
  • Delegate decision-making power to small teams.

Sounds like a nice theory? It is nothing new: In software development, principles like Agile and Scrum have been accepted for years, and the principle of self steering juries was introduced in the 12th century.

Why is not everyone doing this? Blame the Army, blame Frederick Taylor, blame Henry Ford, blame consultants, blame business process re-engineering, blame outsourcing, blame ourselves. Never mind. We will define the challenges, assemble and support the teams, and take a step back.

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