peacock with tail unfurled
PHOTO: Kelly Sikkema

An organizational-centric universe depends on an atmosphere of trust, both from employees and customers. The perfect environment — at least in the short-term — is one of blind trust. Customers are fanatically brand loyal. Employees will follow orders without question. As trust declines, the organization will have to increase its command and control functions or else it will face decline too.

In the organizational universe there are three moons:

  1. Ego.
  2. Rigidity.
  3. Complexity.

Ego

The manager knows, and the higher up the manager is, the more they know. Or are supposed to know. Strategy flows downwards and outwards. Ego-driven organizations work well in relatively slow-moving environments where there is high trust. The genius of the leadership is actively promoted. Employees are waiting for the next command. Customers are waiting for the next product.

Hierarchies are hierarchies. There is a ladder that must be climbed. There is a line of command, with specific handover points along the line. The higher up you go the more you’re paid to think. The lower down you are the more your paid to do and not to think too much, particularly when your boss tells you to do something.

Rigidity

Another word for rigidity might be stability. There is a process and a rule for everything. There is a certain way of doing things. There is a clear order and hierarchy and everyone knows their place. Rigidity and stability are excellent ways to maximum production. You’ve precisely defined the processes and work practices. The machine is well-oiled. Everyone knows exactly where they’re heading and they’re going to get there as quickly as possible. The only problem occurs if they’re heading in the wrong direction and/or if the environment begins to rapidly change.

Complexity

Lots of processes, rules, work practices and customs built up over time create lots of complexity. Complexity is often job security. The more complex your job is — even better if it’s ‘creative’ and requires ‘magic’ — the more secure your career is because others depend on you.

There’s nothing better for an organization than customers who depend on them. It’s very hard to resist such complexity. If an organization can integrate its products and services deep into the systems of its customers in complex and difficult to understand and change ways — then dependency occurs. Dependency and addiction are awful things but they can do wonders for the bottom line. Complexity is one of the best ways to hide overcharging. “In the mystery lies the margin” is an old marketing saying. Or as I heard someone else say, “In the margin lies the mystery.” There’s another old saying: “If you can’t dazzle them with diamonds, baffle them with bullshit.”

Organization complexity has been met by a tsunami of customer complexity. Today, customers and employees have never been more thoughtful, independent, skeptical and learning-driven. Their complexity and their unrelenting capacity to change their minds and habits is putting a tremendous stress on traditional organizational structures. Their expectations and demands are rising exponentially.

Modern technology has liberated the customer. It has not done the same for most organizations because they are deeply embedded in a culture of ego, rigidity and complexity. To survive and thrive in a customer-centric universe, organizations must replace ego with humility, rigidity with agility, and complexity with simplicity.