As we reach mid-summer, it is a good time to just kick back and relax. Of course, for most of us that still means checking emails a million times a day and doing a series of conference calls because we are out of the office on vacation and can’t do in-person meetings. Things just seem to have gotten so complex and at times it may feel like they are not in our control. One of the primary functions of leaders needs to be striving to help the organization maneuver through all of this complexity to find a simple place where there is total focus on the mission of the company.
A useful exercise, when you have some time to think, is to go back and dig into some of the writings and thinking of Peter Drucker, arguably the most influential management guru of the 20th century. Take a look at this piece written by John Hagell III that looks at some of Drucker’s thinking around complexity. Note that he began this thinking 50 years ago with the two huge changes of globalization and the emergence of early computers/networks systems. These big innovations resulted in huge complexities and companies needed to adjust. This complexity thing is not just a recent development. Leaders have been struggling with this forever. There must be some lessons here, right?
Take a look at the end of the piece and see some of Drucker’s ideas for dealing with complexity. The first theme is the need for lifelong learning. This is so obvious and yet I wonder how many people and companies focus on it as a central way of simplifying complexity. He then talks about the need to decentralize organizations around employees and begin to treat them as assets rather than as costs. This is a huge thought that often requires monumental changes in an organization. People make the difference, not processes and controls. His third theme is building capacity around core strengths and using outsourcing as a tool to allow leaders to focus on what the company is all about. Simplify the model to make it work. The final theme in the article is the need to understand and focus on the changing economic and social processes rather than building around the older static models. Too often leaders want to keep this part constant as it is too difficult for them to change relative to a moving target but that leads to change that fits yesterday not today.
There is a lot to think about in the few paragraphs written about Drucker’s thinking. I would argue that it might be worth some “summer thinking” as you may be able to find a roadmap to help you maneuver through the complexity and find some simplicity. For you, is it more of a commitment to lifelong learning? Should your company work to decentralize more? I mean real decentralization that involves power, responsibility and accountability. Should work be taken out of the organization and given to those who do it better so you can concentrate on the core competences? How much thinking and planning is based on yesterday’s world rather than the one we are facing today or tomorrow?
If you want to impress your boss or your peers rather than just spending time doing emails and teleconferences during your vacation, do some thinking. Use the four Drucker themes as a framework for your thinking. Start a conversation when you return by saying, “I have been doing a lot of thinking about complexity and the need to focus and simplify and I think we should explore …”.