Why CEOs Are Abandoning 'Command-and-Control'

A new study shows a shift in leadership strategy among CEOs.
July 05, 2012

A recent IBM study of more than 1,700 chief executive officers from 64 countries and 18 industries worldwide has some intriguing implications for organizational culture.

Although I’ve spoken with several HR leaders over the last few months about the necessity of transforming the way we work, I’ve always felt this uneasiness that CEOs weren’t on the same page. The IBM study assures me that this is not the case. Leaders clearly see that command and control is outdated and ineffective.

Knowledge Sharing in All Directions

According to the research, companies that outperform their peers are 30 percent more likely to identify openness as a key influence. Using social media mainly, CEOs are encouraging their employees to create new workstreams that tap the collective intelligence of the firm and allow employees to connect with and learn from one another.

As I reported in Lifehack last month, this trend has given rise to what I am calling the super-intranet, which is built to provide information and support while facilitating real-time interaction. NASA’s Spacebook, for example, encourages global employee connections through user profiles, forums, groups and social tagging As NASA’s senior people begin to retire via the Baby Boomer brain drain, Spacebook will be an invaluable tool in getting its next generation of leaders up to speed.

Well-Defined and Airtight Cultures

Internal sites are one thing, but what about external brand presence? CEOs are on board to leverage social media transparency here as well. They have been slow to warm up to this idea because they rightly believe it makes them vulnerable, but now they are recognizing that establishing such openness makes a strong internal and external culture possible. More and more organizations are doing a better job of communicating mission, vision and values from the top down, and empowering their employees to live these principles on a daily basis.

And we, the public, have front row seats. In May, for instance, Best Buy’s interim CEO Mike Mikan announced results of an independent investigation and a major leadership change to his employees. He broadcast the speech on YouTube, and notably, left the video open to comments.

Seamless Collaboration

Innovation, not surprisingly, emerged as a top priority for CEOs. IBM found that outperforming organizations are partnering with previous competitors to create not only new products and services but new industries, with more than two-thirds of responding CEOs planning such initiatives.

As for what CEOs are looking for in employees, the respondents want to recruit and hire people who excel at working in open, complex, and team-based environments. Highly valued skills are collaboration (75 percent), communication (67 percent), creativity (61 percent) and flexibility (61 percent).

More Entrepreneurial Leaders?

Some CEOs are walking the walk already while others are just getting started. The smartest in the latter group are relying on trusted change management techniques to shift their cultures gradually, so that responsibilities remain clear and anarchy doesn’t threaten streamlined processes.

The IBM study has revealed a new type of CEO—one that lives on the ground rather than in the ivory tower and one that is able to adapt to a rapidly evolving business world. In many ways, small-business owners and entrepreneurs are accustomed to this form of leadership.

How does the popular shift from command-and-control to open collaboration affect you, and how are you responding to changing tides in organizational structure and workflow?

Alexandra Levit is a former nationally-syndicated business and workplace columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Money magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.

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