The 3 building blocks of a business organization in 2021
For more than 30 years I have been an academic practitioner. Never heard this title? Well, it means I am a full professor, tenured at the University of Milan in Italy and at the same time a consultant on my own.
Striking a balance between two roles has never been easy. It is usually enough to manage one work, imagine when you have to manage two (and not at different times of the day like many do, maybe working at Nordstrom in the afternoon and Starbuck’s in the morning). So it does not come as a surprise if for many years I have gone solo. I was quite worried then when I decided to scale up two years ago. And now I am here to tell you how you can make it work if you root yourself in 2021 and not in the old views of consulting.
There are three main points I have experimented and learnt from my team which I am sharing with my clients and with you.
Hire smart people and let them be smart
If you hire smart people, experience is not so relevant. We have so many sources of information today that with enough management skills even a group of newbies from college can develop extraordinary ideas and innovate. While traditional consulting behemoth like the Big 4 (hey, I realize I didn’t mention I spent one year with one of them and then went boo…) rely on a very complex hierarchical structure whereby people struggle to advance to the next level, most often disregarding completely teamwork and support, my team is extraordinarily flexible and adaptive! I do not need to assign tasks or control, they go along and self-organize, which you probably agree is in itself an indication of being able to organize, and therefore deliver value to clients. I am quite old, while the average age of my team is less than 27 (I am excluded as an outlier at 55). Still we are working on important and valuable projects with some of the most relevant Italian corporates who provide excellent feedback on our work. My point is not on age though, what I mean is that if people are smart, even without any experience today you can be very valuable. Obviously, I dedicate most of my time to recruitment and support. I adhere to the view that a successful company is built inside out.
Go fully digital
The pandemic allowed us to do what a famous sociologist, Arthur Stinchcombe 50 years ago described as the process of absorbing social technology at the time of founding. Since we could not meet in person and I was based in Milan with my personal assistant originally in Rome, we gave up on the idea of having an office. We had then to create a virtual office which we did through the same processes we advise our clients to adopt. We kept experimenting with different apps and applications to understand which ones would support us better. We have now found our temporary best fit. We use Slack to allow a continuous creation fo new parallel teams ranging from projects, to ideas to space for randomness. All our documents are safely stored on Google Drive, while we have moved away from Powerpoint to embrace Canva which allows us to be more colourful and original than others. Our clients who are mostly big corporations seem to like it. We do have a corporate identity and we reinforce every presentations with our claim and logo, but what makes us unique is not the color: it is our innovativeness and our spirit. To support our projects we have adopted Trello, even though we are considering to stay in the same home (Atlassian) and move to a better view (Jira): it is still under consideration. For our meetings we stick to GoogleMeet and for external activities we have a business account with Zoom. Lately we are experimenting with Whereby which is definitely cool and seems to have a better video quality. Some of you might think this is a patchwork, but I am a firm believer in the best-of-breed approach to software at least if you are starting from scratch. it is such a pity to hear that many companies are trapped in path dependence having to use very uncomfortable and expensive solutions only because their IT department is too lazy to search for the best.
Roles are not people, and people are not roles
We do not have formal roles. Better, we do have three broadly defined roles with quite weird names, though: honchos, hoods, and double agents. A Honcho is anybody who feels particularly responsible of something (a client, a project, a process, an area like for example research) and is recognized to have the skills to be listened. A Hood is part of a team working together who recognizes one or more honchos in the team and supports them. A Double Agent is either a honcho or a hood who works on different areas (for example two different projects) and disseminates knowledge across them. These roles serve only the purpose to facilitate work and information and they are not necessarily stable. For example there are projects where I act as honcho, other where I am a hood and I act as Double Agent on few topics like new ways of working which is one of my favorite. What matters most is to understand what we need to do to make it work, not to concentrate on where’s one’s turf. It requires maturity and the ability to absorb mistakes with the sincere desire to get our company Orgtech to continue growing as fast as it has done (10x in 2020).