Uber: "Brilliant Jerks" playing a "game-of-thrones political war" - Lessons for zombie organizations
“Inside Uber’s Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture” was the title of a recent New York Times article (by Mike Isaac, February 22, 2017). It reports on a set of over 30 interviews with current and former Uber employees regarding “an often unrestrained workplace culture.”
Big and medium-sized organizations run almost everything we depend on from garbage removal to providing your internet service. You probably work in one.
To be efficient and effective at providing those things, it used to be that your best organizational approach was to be as large as possible (for economies of scale) and to focus on repetition using standard procedures and “best practices.” To do that, you needed people to write those procedures, to measure the results, and to ensure that people were trained and were following them.
Zombie organizationsThe problem is that organizations doing this tend to act like zombies:
Today, every time you open your news app or read a newspaper, there are surprises. Some recent, actual headlines have included these: “The Specter of an Accidental China-U.S. War,” “Our [Brexit] leap into the unknown threatens both Europe and the world economy,” “How America can overcome the challenges of an aging population” and “Sears tanked because the company failed to shift to digital.”
So our zombie organizations are facing a VUCA world which is now awash in more and more information and knowledge; we have half the world’s population now using the internet, and digital disruption occurring almost everywhere. How ironic — more uncertainty while there is more available information and knowledge than ever before.
To make it worse, the workers in our zombie organizations are either not engaged in their work or even actively disengaged. Worldwide, according to Gallup, 87 percent of employees are not engaged. It is a bit better in the United States — the number there is only (!) 70 percent. The very people that zombie organizations need to help them make sense of this ever-changing world are showing up for work but are mentally checked-out.
In a VUCA-digital world, the agility of an organization is now more important than its size or its ability to repeat what it did yesterday.
Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, once said: "An organization's ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage." This is true now more than ever and it poses an existential threat to zombie organizations who are much better at moving in a straight line than dodging the curveballs the world is throwing at them. What we need now is to build smarter organizations by rebooting those zombie organizations so they can deliver better products and services and have happier workers.
Calculating your organization’s “Z”ombie score
The first step is to identify which are the zombie organizations. You can calculate your organizations’ “Z” — or Zombie — score. Follow this link to download the Z test and answer the 10 Yes / No questions.
If you score 7+: Emergency! Your organization is in full-fledged zombie mode, and drastic action is required immediately. It may be too late, but getting your leadership to read this blog will start you on your recovery or join the anti-zombie movement at Building Smarter Organizations.
I recently posted in the International Legal Technology Association's KM blog a piece focused on the need for innovations that are both practical and novel for law firm / department innovation (click here to read it).
I think the "test" I propose in that blog post, for whether an organization should consider adopting a new innovation, is useful for all types of organizations. Here's the test, slightly adapted to be useful for a general audience, for whether your organization should consider an innovation to be both practical and novel:
A quick note on including "novel" as part of the test; the reason for this is that if an innovation is widely in use by others that you compare yourself to, it no longer confers any competitive edge (but may simply be something that has become "table stakes" for your industry - or is, in fact, useless, and you've avoided wasted time and money by not implementing it).
Let me know what you think of the test.
I connect organizations to new ways of thinking and innovation, then work with them to choose the best path forward, and then design and implement the change with them.