Embracing a knowledge economy has ignited a transformation of the organizational model. Some of the changes have been dramatic – like Tony Hsieh restructuring Zappos into a Holacracy, “which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”
Most shifts have been subtler (and less controversial). Yet as a whole, the changes bring two points to light. First, we’ve entered an age in which globalization and the proliferation of innovative, lean companies are changing the marketplace. Second, a massive young generation is entering the workforce with a different set of expectations about what a highly functioning team looks like and can do.
What was once deemed ‘The Organization of the Future’ is here now, bringing with it an imperative to reassess your operational approach.
Sustaining leadership in a rapidly changing business environment requires that leaders peer into the future to ascertain what will be required for success as we move deeper into the Knowledge Age.
This new approach is characterized by values like collaboration, shared vision, communication, empowerment, willingness to overcome bias and disrupt to innovate. Knowledge-based organizations are built for agility and focused on staying ahead of change. Fundamentally, this is a human-centered approach in which process supports behavior, rather than the other way around.
The Three Priorities of Successful Knowledge Organizations
For process to follow behavior, leaders must create a sustainable framework that works across the organization. Parallel to building a set of actionable core values, this lens serves to filter opportunities and approaches, disqualifying anything that could hamper progress.
Focus One: The Organization
Establish and communicate core values. Ensure they are shared by everyone in the organization and communicated externally as appropriate. The goal is not to build a list of traits; rather it is to assert a set of principles that support the ongoing health of the organization. For Toffler Associates, these are things like speaking truth to power, curiosity and lifelong learning, diversity of thought, and a commitment to connect – all of which encourage thinking and action.
Focus Two: The World
Embedded in the core values should be a collective obsession to understand the outside world, the rates of change, and implications of these changes. The only way to produce value is to know absolutely how your role in the total customer experience. The power shift occurring from institutions to customers makes it an imperative to look beyond what you do, make, or sell. Everyone within your organization must know your part in the industry, economy and world as all continue to progress.
Focus Three: The People
On the flip side of an obsession with the world at large is a consistent preoccupation with people. Both internally and externally, it’s critical to understand how your organization impacts others. For the purposes of innovation, it’s particularly important to build metrics around how your customers engage with – and more importantly, how they want to engage with – what you bring to the world. Engagement is up close and personal, it is a contact sport between your customers and your workforce. Understanding how the customer experience is delivered and received is vital to becoming an agile organization capable of staying ahead of change.
We are moving rapidly away from a model built around command and control and pulling management levers to achieve certain objectives. A successful organizational structure today is based on having the courage to ask ‘what if,’ and consider both new and existing scenarios with a tabula rasa approach.
It’s time to take a moment to transform organizational core values toward purposeful innovation.
 Holacracy and Self-Organization, Zappos Insights
Deborah Westphal is a passionate humanist who has guided our era’s top minds and leaders to challenge biases, ignite ideas, and build connections and resilience for a secure and sound future. Her career spans more than 30 years in government agencies and Fortune 100 companies, and on virtually every continent. In 1999, Alvin Toffler tapped her as one of the founding members of his eponymous consulting firm, Toffler Associates. From 2007 through 2018, she served as the firm’s CEO and has since contributed her experience and knowledge as a member of the board. Through her work, she has guided notable organizations including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Marriott, U.S. Air Force, Baxter International, Bayer, Heinz, Microsoft, Koppers, PPG, DARPA, National Security Agency, Loral Space Systems, NASA, Qwest, Verizon, and Westinghouse. Deborah’s empathetic and thought-provoking style helps readers spot patterns that signify future risks and opportunities. She’s a sought-after speaker and writer who provided the Foreword to After Shock. Her book, Convergence: Technology, Business, and the Human-Centric Future, was published in May 2021 by Unnamed Press. Find her at deborahwestphal.com.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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