When the newly appointed chief inspector of the British prison system arrived on site to begin his first day of work, he asked a very simple question: “What is your measure of success?” The unanimous answer was, as you might expect, the number of escapees... the lower the better, obviously.
But the new chief saw the goal as being focused on recidivism. In other words, preventing relapse into criminal behavior once an inmate was paroled or freed. The corresponding success measure, then, was not the number of escapes, but rather the number of former prisoners returning to confinement.
Once the prison organization saw itself as a reform institution rather than a jailer, rapid and radical change in the system occurred.
This is essentially the argument that award-winning author and former World Bank executive Stephen Denning makes in his new book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century.
Big Idea: Once a company sees itself not as being in the business of providing products and services but rather as in the business of delighting customers and users, radical change in the prevailing system can occur. This is not a new idea, but it remains far from mainstream management practice. It is far less rare, the author argues, in organizations (technology and otherwise) that have embraced and embedded the principles of agile software development, and applied them to processes and practices outside of the technology realm.
Backstory: Mr. Denning set out two years ago to understand why less than 20 percent of workers are passionate about their job, and why in the past quarter century “startups created 40 million jobs in the United States, while established firms created almost none.” Why were smaller, entrepreneurial businesses, most of which were involved in technology, such more productive, passionate and innovative?
Key Takeaways: Radical management doesn’t focus on single radical innovations, but rather on the process of continuous innovation. There are seven basic principles of continuous innovation:
- Focus work on delighting the client.
- Do work through self-organizing teams.
- Do work in client-driven iterations.
- Deliver value to clients in each iteration.
- Be totally ope about impediments to improvement.
- Create a context for continuous self-improvement by the team.
- Communicate interactively through stories, questions and conversations.
Liked Most: The book draws on principles—and supports them with a multitude of practices—that are real and proven, without the typical praising of famous firms, prodigies, celebrity executives or current media darlings. Mr. Denning eloquently but matter-of-factly discusses how ordinary people become extraordinary, and how any company can go about constantly reinventing itself, and does so in a way that is both accessible and broadly applicable. And although practitioners of “design thinking,” “lean,” and “agile development” will recognize the thinking, Mr. Denning downplays the typical lingo and shorthand associated with those concepts. Finally, Mr. Denning knows how to tell a story. In other words, he practices what he preaches...which is always refreshing.
Best For: Leaders and managers who want to simultaneously: create a workplace characterized by extraordinary engagement, continuous innovation, and customer delight; reinvigorate an established business with the energy and inventiveness of a startup; achieve extraordinary gains in productivity by leveraging known practices, make leadership storytelling an integral part of the company culture. And, do all this without jeopardizing the two things traditional management is good at: discipline and execution.
What Others are Saying: “I’ve spent the last 35 years of my professional life bushwhacking my way towards what I now know, thanks to Steve Denning, is the nirvana called Radical Management. It is a place where delighting customers is the religion and creativity, passion and learning are revered. Denning’s Radical Management is the antidote to the greatest disease in the workplace today, mental resignation due to lack of purpose. Radical Management should be required reading for anyone entering the work force or looking to reignite their inner bushwhacker!” - Sam Bayer, CEO, b2b2dot0
Rating: 9.5 (out of 10)