Organizational trends

Several people during the past week have asked me what I see as the organizational trends that are having an impact both on organization designs and on the Human Resource/Organization Development functions.

It's an interesting question that you can look at from a macro/global level, or at a single small organization in a specific market sector or geography. It seems that the people who were asking were more interested in what the macro level trends were that they would then be able to interpret and assess the impact of in their local markets.

But how useful is to know about a macro level trend? Everyone knows that rapidly advancing communication and collaboration technologies are having a major impact on organizational operations, but maybe that macro level statement is too general to be useful. Would it be more helpful to ask "Are there some specific communication and collaboration technologies that are having more of an impact on organizational designs than others". For example, is Twitter more of an organizational game changer than Facebook? Or Google more than Microsoft? Or Cisco's telepresence more than webcams on individual computers?

One way of thinking about this is to list macro trends and then to ask a series of questions about each. I have a trend list that I keep an eye on that comprises:

1. New business models: for example the rise of new conglomerates.
2. The shifting boundaries of organizations: where do organizational responsibilities begin and end?
3. Changes in ownership structures and governance models – for example the emergence of more joint state and public ownership
4. Challenges to western organizations from BRIC organizations
5. Technologies around collaboration and communication
6. Supply chain innovations
7. Sustainability discussions

Looking at that list suggests that other people would be keeping an eye on other trends. There probably isn't a list that would suit everyone. Why haven't I got anything related to finance and economics on the list, or legal and compliance frameworks, or new models of leadership? My list reflects my interests, the work that I do – which is mainly around organization design and change management. It seems to go without saying that beyond the potentially radical or transformational trends organizations are the incremental continuous trends looking at cost and efficiency savings, improving customer service, and ways of building creativity and innovation.

Five questions that I ask myself (in relation to organizations I am working with) when I see an article, or blog, or video that captures my interest and seems to be part of a trend:

1. Should I look at this more closely? Why/why not?
2. What risks or opportunities does this trend imply or suggest if we ignored it/if we investigated it?
3. How could I use this example to illustrate possibilities to the leaders in the organizations?
4. What is this article/blog/etc telling us about what's going on more generally in this field of play?
5. How/where can I find out more about it and similar related stories?

If you're interested in organizational trends where do you go for information? Sites that I look at regularly, and that discuss both continuous and radical trends include:

Techcrunch. It bills itself as a "leading technology media property, dedicated to obsessively profiling startups, reviewing new Internet products, and breaking tech news." A recent post there was headed E-Books See Triple Digit Growth As Paper Book Sales Dive, prompting me to ask what other businesses are doomed by e-methods of delivering products and services.

Fast Company that tells us it is "the world's leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, ethonomics (ethical economics), leadership, and design. Written for, by, and about the most progressive business leaders." A blog that caught my eye last week was about business models: Why Groupon And It's Clones Won't Last

TED Say it "is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Our mission: Spreading ideas. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers."

One of its themes is collaboration, and there is a medley of talks loosely related to the theme. Chris Anderson's talk on How web video powers global innovation is a good listen and learn for organizations.

RSA. "For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress. Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action. " A talk scheduled for May 11 2011 is called The future of power, Joseph S. Nye is talking on the topic How is power changing in the 21st century? How do the financial crisis, global epidemics and climate change affect an increasingly interconnected world? How can empowering others help us to accomplish our own goals? What are the resources that confer power in the global information age?

Strategy + business says that it is "an award-winning management magazine, published in print and on the Web for decision makers in businesses and organizations around the world. Our purpose is to illuminate the complex choices that leaders face – in strategy, marketing, operations, human capital, public presence, governance, and other domains – and the impact of their decisions." the Spring 2011 issue has an article on The Coming Wave of "Social Apponomics about "the secret to profitability on the Internet [that] has finally arrived in an innovative blend of social media, Web mobility, and creative e-commerce applications."

Stanford Social Innovation Review which tells us "Our mission is to share substantive insights and practical experiences that will help those who do the important work of improving society do it even better." I liked the report What's Next: Retailing with Heart on Panera cafes which are opening some branches that operate on the honor system of paying.

Any other thoughts and suggestions on where to look for organizational trends – let us know.

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