Week 19, 2021 — Issue #151
Organizational Relics: Top-Down Hierarchies, Annual Budgets, and Full-Time Employment
Each week: three ideas on how to make work better. This week: three to-be relics of organizations past.
Stop for a moment and think about everything that’s changed in the past 100 years. Back in the 1920s, the world population had just hit 2 billion, the Model T was the world’s most popular car, commercial air travel had just gotten off the ground (pun intended), and the television was still a novelty.
Fast forward until today and the world population is approaching 8 billion. And thanks to a slew of technological advancements — computers, Internet, space travel — we now live in a hyperconnected world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and… well… change.
The world is a very different place.
And yet some things remain the same.
Case in point: the way we organize ourselves and our work.
1. Top-Down Hierarchies
The world is a very different place. And yet the way we structure our organizations has remained more or less the same in the last 100 years. Aaron Dignan brings this point across in Brave New Work when he asks readers to date an organizational chart from the 1920s. It’s maddeningly difficult.
The top-down hierarchy is an organizational relic in the same way that the Model T is a relic of the golden age of automobiles. The only difference is that organizational hierarchies have managed to stick around a bit longer. But it’s just a matter of time.
2. Annual Budgets
The world is a very different place. And yet the way we plan and allocate resources has remained more or less unchanged in the past 100 years. James McKinsey published the book on “modern” budgeting practices in… 1922! And as with everything else, that book was a product of its time.
The annual budget is an organizational relic in the same way that the black-and-white television is a relic of home entertainment. The only difference is that the annual budget has managed to stick around a bit longer. But it’s just a matter of time.
3. Full-Time Employment
The world is a very different place. And yet the way we think about work and employment has remained more or less the same. Full-time employment is still the norm — gig economy notwithstanding. And until very, very, recently work was, for the most part, both co-located and synchronous.
The full-time employment contract is an organizational relic in the same way that… well, you get the idea. Things are a-changing. And we’re now seeing and experiencing glimpses of what’s to come. It’s just a matter of time before this glimpse becomes the norm.
We’re writing the next chapter in the history of work (w292019). And while the jury is still out on what will replace the above relics, there are a few tantalizing options: ecosystems instead of hierarchies (w252020), short-term bets instead of annual budgets (w492020), and roles with freedom and flexibility rather than narrowly defined responsibilities (w102020).
That’s all for this week.
Until next time: Make it matter.