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Re-inventing organizations: taking “Mad Men” into the 21st century

We live in a business environment characterized by network driven ecosystems, 24/7 access to global communications and the ability to access and analyze vast amounts of information.  We carry more computer power on our smart phones than the early IBM mainframe computers.  Yet, how much has the Internet, mobile devices, and social networks impacted how today’s business organizations are structured or how work gets done?  For many organizations, culture and business processes are still rooted in the “Mad Men” era.  While it is no longer a man’s only world and business causal has replaced suits, many organizations have not quite evolved.

In the post-industrial era, electricity, automation and telecommunications enabled the creation of large companies.  Efficiency was the driving force of these organizations.  The mid 20th century saw the rise of computers, the birth of the multi-national corporation, the invention of middle management and the shift to a service economy.   While the era we live in has seen vast amounts of technological change, many of the same structures that were put in place in the last century are still with us.

Mad Men
Photo credit: Wikipedia

There is no doubt that technology enables things that were not even dreamt of in the past.  But it is also true that no matter how sophisticated IT systems are, or how clever the apps, organizations need to consider the “human element” and evolve their processes and reward systems in order to gain the full benefit.

While each organization is different, the following are some ways organizations can rethink their processes to remain competitive and maximize their returns on their investment in new technologies.

  1.  Utilize virtual work and teams.  Co-location is necessary for certain industries and jobs, but most knowledge based workers can work globally and be connected virtually with the technology they already have.  This provides advantages to both the individual and the organization.  Virtual workers also have a smaller carbon footprint and organizations save money on infrastructure costs.
  2.  Re-imagine jobs to be more modular and allow workers to utilize their skills on projects anywhere in the organization.  This not only makes the best use of human capital it also can solve skill shortages and can lead to greater productivity and satisfaction among employees.
  3. Redefine the role of management.  The age of the all powerful ‘boss’ is very 20th century. Encourage leadership to blog, tweet or find other ways of engaging and not just be seen as ensconced in their offices behind gatekeepers.
  4. Empower employees.  Invite employees to the table, get their feedback and listen to their suggestions.  They are on the front-lines and can provide valuable insights and intelligence about trends, competitors and emerging client needs.
  5. Train employees on the new technologies.  Don’t assume you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.  Many older adults have embraced social technologies.  Don’t assume only the millennials will get it.
  6. Redefine relationships with clients.  Are clients trusted partners who have access to information and engage with your organization?  Or are they individuals that get glad handled and taken to the local bar/restaurant for a good time?  Social networks are all about relationships.  If they are not being used for this purpose, they are not being properly utilized.

While the era of Mad Men may appeal to some, it is apparent that the organization and individuals depicted there are reflective of their times, not ours.  We live in more global, fast paced, information rich era.  We need to create organizations that reflect this.  Otherwise, the organizations we run or work for will go the way of the 2 martini and smoke-filled lunch.  These lunches are still around, but they are an increasingly rare sight.

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