Yesterday the Management Issues blog posted an article by Neil Cassie titled The New Language of Leadership. Typically I would stop at the title, as at last count there were approximately 357 old languages of leadership and my ability to learn yet another one is pretty maxed out. In fact, I wrote about that problem just yesterday. But the next line of the story grabbed my attention:
"A profound shift is taking place from predictive to non-predictive demand – from push to pull economics. And if organisations are going to adapt to this, their leaders need to radically reassess their behavior."
"Pull economics" and "non-predictive demand"… sounds suspiciously like a macro version of lean enterprise concepts. Are economists starting to see the light? To add fuel to my interest, the large print tagline box halfway down the article said…
"Leaders must replace their faith in the latest guru with faith in their own instincts and in their people."
Yes! That’s almost exactly what I wrote about yesterday! What a coincidence. Unfortunately that’s about the end of the good news. What could have been an interesting analysis of lean enterprise concepts applied to macro "pull economics" as those of us in the real world would understand it, rapidly degraded into yet another slicing of the "leadership onion" at a slightly different angle than the other 357 versions. But for your enjoyment I’ll take a stab at some of the author’s concepts of what happens when organizations adapt to "pull economics":
organizations become organisms: Most of us are already skeptical when we see the word "organisms" tied to business… although I could think of some companies that are remarkably similar to cockroaches.
workforce becomes talent marketplace: Perhaps I could buy this one. Too bad Ford didn’t look at the 30,000 people it just whacked as a talent marketplace.
instructions become tacit interactions: Huh? Ok, I give up.
bullet points become stories: Uh, nope. Don’t get that one either.
metrics become dialogue: So we should just talk about things instead of measuring them? Sounds a little like the current trend in school sports where there can be no winners and losers… and therefore no incentive to improve.
winners and losers become interdependents: A-ha! I was right on the previous statement! I think…
But then he surprises me with a couple realistic points:
"Just at the point that companies have to move from resource-centric to people-centric, their people have a bad dose of initiative fatigue and even worse, a deep-rooted cynicism.
So the ‘new language’ detailed above must not just be spoken, but experienced. In this ‘quiet revolution,’ actions speak louder than words.
That sounds unfortunately like the all-too-typical lean transformation. Lots of classroom training, then some more classroom training, then an edict to "go forth and be lean!" Definitely creates "initiative fatigue" and cynicism. Lean has to be demonstrated to be believed. You have to show that 50% of an activity’s time and cost can be removed with just a few days work. Otherwise it is just words. Or yet another "leadership language" for that matter.
Mr. Cassie spends the rest of the article discussing implementation in terms of vision, strategy, alignment, and values. Once again I thought there might be a parallel to lean with regards to the concept of value. Unfortunately he asks each individual in the organization to ask "what is my value"… not "what is my value to my customer."
The potential of the "pull economics" concept is interesting, and very relevant. Many aspects of the world we live in are becoming non-predictive, especially as global interactions become very rapid due to the speed of electronic media and the internet. The classic lean concept of "pull" is uniquely suited to this situation, and therefore some of the other lean enterprise concepts can perhaps be extended out of the enterprise and into the overall global economy. The "lean economy." Maybe I should trademark that before some consultant beats me to it.