Dr. Mario Barrett, Ph.D. asked:
The world is changing. The compression of time, globalization, and the influence of technology are transforming the marketplace as well as the organizations that operate within it. The quagmire that many American organizations find themselves in is determining how to transform themselves in order to keep pace. The only way that American organizations can competitively forge ahead in this new marketplace is to relinquish some power to their trusted employees, transforming them from simple worker bees to empowered leaders. This transformation cannot take place in rhetoric, but must be demonstrated in deeds. Organizational leaders must encourage trusted employees to lead through the development of their ideas and their initiative to take actions that are in the best interest of the organization.
This is not an easy task as the Industrial Age hierarchical leadership structure of many American organizations tend to limit the ability of middle to lower level employees to fully engage the organization’s mission and vision. Industrial Age organizational cultures often create an environment where employees are simply following the directives of higher level supervisors with little latitude to make decisions or input their ideas. This type of rigid top-down management does not encourage the type of leadership that the new marketplace requires. To demonstrate the importance of leadership for the viability of American organizations, let us briefly take a look at three of the forces that are changing the way American organizations must function and how leadership could improve their viability and competitiveness.
The Compression of Time and the Influence of Technology
The compression of time and the influence of technology work hand in hand, as the rapid development of new technology has drastically shortened the business cycle. Just think 25 years ago, if you wanted to send a document from one city to another you had to mail it. This would have taken 2-3 business days. Not any more. You can fax that same document, or scan and email it, allowing the receiver to obtain it in seconds. Twenty years ago, cell phones, the Internet, and high-speed communications were either not available or very limited, often limiting employees to communicating business while in the office. This is no longer the case, Blackberries, laptops, and home offices facilitated by fax machines and DSLs allow employees to conduct business anywhere at any time.
All of this new technology has truly changed the way American organizations view time, because much more can be done in the same span of time than in years past. What does this mean for organizations’ trusted employees’ productivity? Should they bog themselves down with more work simply because there is more ways to get things accomplished in a timely fashion?
It seems that the answer is yes, as more employees are working longer and longer hours, as their personal lives are being intruded upon by their work. But, the question here is-Are these employees using the new technology and compression of time to do better quality work that will provide their organization with a competitive edge or are they misusing the time afforded them because they lack the freedom to control their schedule because of higher directives?
The answer to this question lies with the employee, as he/she often knows best what he/she could be doing to make better use of his/her time. But, are organizational leaders who are immersed in an antiquated organizational culture open to listening to their trusted employees’ views on these matters? Are they open to letting these employees manage their time in order to more efficiently meet organizational objectives? While time management may seem simple, it requires a great deal of personal leadership on the part of the employee. Nevertheless, an employee’s ability to utilize technology to manage his/her time to facilitate organizational objects is vital to his/her productivity and creativity. Moreover, it is essential to an organization’s ability to remain competitive in this new marketplace.
Globalization is another factor that is transforming the marketplace that American organizations compete in. Countries such as India, China, and Korea are developing their economies at a rapid pace. American organizations are now facing tremendous pressures in industries that we once dominated handily such as the car and electronics industry. In addition, the cheaper labor and lower operating costs are luring American companies to close down operations in the states and move them overseas, which hurts the average American worker. How can globalization be stopped is the question that I hear most often asked when this topic comes up?
However, globalization is not a force that one can truly combat, rather it is an inevitable shift in the world economy. No country stays on top forever, nor does any country stay on the bottom forever. Therefore, American organizations have to look at globalization as simply another transition in an ever-changing world. With this in mind, the question should not be what can we do to stop globalization, but rather what do we need to do so that we can remain viable and compete in this new world economy?
The first step is that our organizational leaders need to analyze what makes their organizations great. Answering the following questions will help them with this inquiry.
What do we do well?
Why do we do it so well?
What could we improve to do it even better?
Are our employees well-trained and happy to do what is asked of them?
Second, organizational leaders need to shift the conversation to global competition. Answering these questions will begin the shift.
What is our purpose on a global level?
What is our vision on a global level?
Do our employees understand that we face global competition?
Do our employees understand the global challenges we face?
Are our trusted employees empowered to make choices and decisions that they feel will give the organization a competitive advantage in this global marketplace?
In all, globalization just like the compression of time and the influence of technology requires leadership for American organizations to remain viable and competitive in this new marketplace. Still, many of us fear what is on the horizon as things may look a bit murky. This is a normal reaction when change comes about, but understand that leadership does not operate out of fear. Leadership requires that you set aside your fears long enough to take the necessary actions to achieve your goals. So, to American organizational leaders don’t be afraid to encourage your employees to lead. And to employees, don’t be afraid to lead.
Will American organizations thrive in this new marketplace? Only those that embrace and encourage true leadership at all levels of the organizational hierarchy. Therefore, American organizations must break free from their subconscious love affair with the rigid top-down organizational culture of the Industrial Age, as it stifles employees’ ability to lead. Lend me your thoughts.