You Can’t Solve Today’s Problems With Yesterday’s Solutions

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Twenty-first century leaders might benefit from thinking of themselves as being in the center of a web rather than on top of a pyramid”Dr. Ben Dattner.

When I read that statement over at Smart Brief as their quote of the day, I was pleasantly surprised to see my good friend Dr. Dattner being quoted.

He is a nationally known organizational psychologist that I have worked with numerous times over the years. His recent book, The Blame Game, is centered around two words that causes so much angst in an organization: the dynamics of credit and blame that is percolating 24/7.

Today’s problems, yesterday’s solutions

In another great book, Employees First, Customer Second by Vineet Nayer, he turns the pyramid upside down with employees at the top and customers at the bottom.

Both these statements are powerful new ways of looking at both leadership and the people that make it happen.

And both these statements get to the heart of it: We can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.

If you think of how change has come to our lives, especially with the advent of social media, everything is different. The organization and its people, however, are struggling as to how to keep pace. If leaders use the model of being at the center of the web, or if your organization puts its people first, these are innovations that would be unheard of in years past.

The old org chart is a thing of the past. The Scottish-American engineer Daniel McCallum is credited for creating the first organizational charts of American business around 1854. Based on that calculation, the org chart is approximately 158 years old. With project-based work, team approaches and virtual work, it almost makes the org chart obsolete.

Helping someone to get what they want

On the other hand, if you look at the concept of Employees First, Customers Second it notes that “[EFCS] … turned the traditional management hierarchy upside down. The aim of EFCS was to create trust, to make managers as accountable to employees as employees were to their bosses, to transfer the responsibility for change and value creation to front-line employees working in the what they describe as the ‘value zone’ where HCL and its customers interact. Systems and processes were put in place designed to achieve these goals.”

Starbucks is another company that works with this concept. Even part-time employees get health insurance. Costco’s CEO recently said he was an advocate of the raising of the minimum wage.

Both these organizations pay above average wages and have other initiatives that mirror the employee first philosophy. If you think of any organization that makes employer of choice or best places to work lists, you can see leadership from the web. You can also see the inverted pyramid.

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In order to get what you want you have to help someone get what they want. That means that organizations must do whatever they can to help their collective group of employees get or achieve what they want.

This model has a host of benefits — increased productivity, increased employee engagement, innovation and creativity. The derivative of this is the bottom line looks a lot stronger.

We are all in this together

Organizations of the future are going to need to adapt a new model of doing business. This is the era of “talent,” and that talent as a whole will not be mistreated in any way. They walk out every day and are not tied to anyone.

Everyone within the organization has to buy into the concept of helping each other. It is not just leadership at the top; it is leadership from every corner of the organization. Team leader, project lead, VP or C-level — all must adhere to that new mindset.

No organization will survive, talent-wise, unless adjustments are made. The brouhaha over the Yahoo decision to rein in work from home appeared on the surface to disrupt the new people-friendly policies. Best Buy followed a few weeks later when the new CEO squashed their highly acclaimed ROWE program that was heralded a few years back for the focus on results and not on where workers accomplish those results.

There will always be adjustments made going forward; there is no one size fits all. You can’t duplicate another company’s culture no matter how hard you try. But, what you can do is pay close attention to your organizational culture, experiment, and make adjustments.

Whether you are leading from the web or putting your employees first, remember this: today’s issues cannot be solved with an Industrial Age mindset.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “You Can’t Solve Today’s Problems With Yesterday’s Solutions

  1. Logically then, does this mean that 50 years hence your ideas will cease to become valid? And if so, is it responsible of the author to publish such obvious falsehoods?

  2. This is a great post, Ron. It seems crazy that, at a fundamental level, the org chart and the way we model organizations hasn’t really changed since the industrial revolution … even though businesses and the way they’re conducted have progressed significantly since then. You mentioned that adjustments are continuously needed to keep talent from walking away … what is the greatest area of adjustment you’ve seen from your experience?

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