Everyone and everything is connected.
The world has become one giant network where instantly accessible and shareable information rewrites the future as quickly as it can be understood. Fueled by relentless technological innovation, this accelerating connectivity has created an ever increasing rate of change. As a result, the future is becoming impossible to predict.
Meanwhile, most organizations still rely on a way of working designed over 100 years ago for the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age. Team structures support routine and static jobs. Hierarchical systems of command and control enable senior leadership to drive efficiency and predictability at the expense of free information flow, rapid learning, and adaptability.
The tension between organizations optimized for predictability and the unpredictable world they inhabit has reached a breaking point.
Organizations are struggling to keep up with their customers. Workers caught between dissatisfied customers and uninspiring leaders are becoming disillusioned and disengaged. Executives caught between discontented investors and disruptive competitors are struggling to find a path forward. And people who want a better world for themselves and their communities are looking to new ambitious organizations to shape our collective future.
We need a new way.
The Responsive Organization is built to learn and respond rapidly by optimizing for the open flow of information; encouraging experimentation and learning on rapid cycles; and organizing as a network of employees, customers, and partners motivated by shared purpose.
Responsive Org Principles
Responsive Organizations value a way of working that is designed for an uncertain world. While predictable challenges do still exist, and many industrial-era principles are still effective in certain situations, Responsive Organizations value these principles more:
Purpose over Profit
In the past, the goal for many organizations was creating economic value for shareholders or owners. In other words, "making money", and quite often with a short-term lens. While many have been hugely successful at this, it has often involved trade-offs: diminishing public trust in organizations across many industries; shortening life spans of organizations; plummeting levels of employee engagement; and damaging the environment around us.
Today people are looking for organizations that have a purpose broader than just making money. Rather than viewing profit as the primary goal of an organization, progressive leaders see profit as a byproduct of success. They aim to do well by doing good. A clear and visionary purpose – the organization's dent in the universe – brings together stunning talent, committed shareholders, partners, and communities.
Empowering over Controlling
In the past, a limited number of people held the power and understanding necessary to steer the organization and its public image. Control was forced through centralized, top down decision-making. Corporate Communications, IT departments, and rigid processes controlled what people said and did. The higher up the pyramid you were, the more power you had. This makes sense in a world where a select few people are most likely to have the knowledge and experience necessary to make the best decisions.
Today, that is no longer the case. Circumstances and markets change rapidly as information flows faster. Now the people with the best insight and decision-making ability are often people closest to the customers, on the front line, or even 'outside' the typical organizational boundaries. Rather than controlling through process and hierarchy, you achieve better results by empowering people at the edges.
Emergence over Planning
In the past, planning was important because high transaction costs made it difficult to change course once decisions had been made, resources had been committed, and people and teams had been coordinated.
Today, plans start losing value the moment they're finished. Because we can't predict the future, time and resources devoted to planning are a less valuable investment than embracing agile methods that encourage experimentation and fuel rapid learning.
Responsive organizations focus on the long term, and plan only to adapt in response to the constantly changing environment around them.
Networks over Hierarchies
In the past there were big and complex tasks that required many people working on them. The 'transaction costs' involved to get coordination between people was high, so the concept of a Manager was introduced. As the number of Managers increased, a Manager of the Managers was created... and hierarchies formed.
This resulted in order, clarity of authority, rank, and power. They reinforced a single primary connection: manager to worker, and enabled a command and control style of leadership that was terrifically successful during the industrial era.
Today, technology and connectivity has increased our ability to self-organize, collaborating more easily across internal and external organizational boundaries. It is no longer necessarily true that coordinating through a Manager is more effective than people self-organizing. Working as a network allows us to organize with many different kinds of connections, and increased autonomy.
Adaptivity over Efficiency
In the past, organizations competed by optimizing productivity, efficiency and predictability. These systems rely on methods and infrastructure that are inflexible by design.
Today, organizations need to be designed for change and continuous learning. Rather than seeking consistency, adaptive systems increase learning and experimentation, in the hopes that one novel idea, product, or method will be the one we need in the new world.
Transparency over Privacy
In the past, information was the currency of power: hard to come by and hard to spread. In the industrial-era environment, organizations guarded information carefully, and leveraged their information as a competitive advantage.
Today, we have access to so much information that it’s become impossible to predict which information might be useful, or who might use that information in a productive way. In this world of abundant information and connectedness the potential benefits of trusting people who share the organization’s purpose to act on information as they see fit usually outweigh the potential risks of open information being used in counter-productive ways.
The following organizations have pledged to continue seeking and developing new Responsive ways of working: Undercurrent | Microsoft | Zappos | Percolate | Khan Academy | California Department of Public Health | Ticketmaster | Cotap | Inspire9 | Nixon McInnes | Hub Australia | Hyper Island | Change Agents Worldwide | BNS Worldwide | The Change School | FremarketHub | Silverside | Collective Conception | Enterprise Social Pty Ltd | evocx | ItTrends Ltda | Think Masters & Associates P/L | United Mindz | Dexterity Solutions | So-Mo | HR Call Centre | Tall Projects Ltd | ERYEM | tribe | Business Models Inc | Organic Organisations | Coincidencity | The Human Leaders | ASA Advisory Services | Sensei Labs | TBWA\HAKUHODO\QUANTUM | True Colours | Cognum AS | Razorfish Germany | Chris Farrance Assocs | Infinite City |
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About the Responsive.org Manifesto
The Responsive Organization Manifesto describes the disruptive factors impacting work today and the fundamental shifts organizations are making to take advantage of those changes. This document is not meant to be exhaustive or to convince people who may not already agree. It is only meant to catalyze those who do agree around a common starting point. Many business and thought leaders are already thinking deeply about these shifts. This document is a common framework around which like-minded people can connect and develop the deeper insights necessary to act.
In the spirit of emergence and experimentation, this manifesto is meant to be a living document which will be updated as our understanding of these shifts and how to communicate them improves.
To comment on this manifesto, please do so here.