Steve Denning and Radical Management

Steve Denning has done a great job of understanding the new world of business. He has understood the principles behind agile and scrum and the way projects work. He has taken these principles and have called them radical management but at its core they are simple.

This is the kind of thinking that is absolutely necessary to get innovation in the social sectors happen. When you think about it a lot of the work of the social sector is around knowledge work, providing a service and in the best cases changing lives. These are not easy tasks. In my work in Families SA I see how social work, residential care and child protection are some of the most knowledge intensive work that can change children’s lives. This means that the management innovation required for this is much greater than normal business management stuff. I think this is where some of the work from Steve will be quite valuable.

He is writing extensively on his blog and on the Forbes network.

For example, this is his take in government.

The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: A genuine Sputnik moment means thinking bigger thoughts

Reinventing government: No one loves the government and efforts are under way to change it. “Government 2.0” has been much talked about as the application of technology to government as we now know it: the use of social media by government agencies, government transparency assisted technology. As so conceived, Government 2.0 has much in common with the Fortune 500 of yesterday. It’s grinding out existing services with somewhat better technology.

Reorganizing government, as proposed by President Obama, is even more problematic. Vast amounts of energy will be spent rearranging the deck chairs, while the ship continues to sink. Jokes about smoked salmon can’t hide the fact that reinventing government means changing the way it functions, not re-arranging the bureaucracy and reporting arrangements.

As properly conceived by Tim O’Reilly, reinventing government is much more than those things. It is a government stripped down to its core, rediscovered and reimagined as if for the first time and focused on delighting its primary stakeholders. It is government aided and abetted by technology, but technology is a means, not the end. It means shifting the idea of government from shaking the vending machine to get more or better services out of it, and over to the idea of government building frameworks that enable people to build new services of their own. Again, we know how to do this.

Overview of the five principles of radical management

The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: The Death—and Reinvention—of Management: Part 1

In reinventing management, five fundamental and interdependent shifts need to occur:

1.      The first shift stems from a monumental transition in the power balance between seller and buyer: to management’s astonishment, the buyer is now in the driver’s seat. As a result, the firm’s goal has to shift to one of delighting clients: i.e. a shift from inside-out (“You take what we make”) to outside-in (“We seek to understand your problems and will surprise you by solving them”).

2.      The second shift stems from the first transition, as well as the epochal transition from semi-skilled labor to knowledge work. Again to management’s astonishment, traditional hierarchy suddenly doesn’t work anymore. The role of the manager has to shift from being a controller to an enabler, so as to liberate the energies and talents of those doing the work and remove impediments that are getting in the way of work.

To support and sustain those two shifts, three other shifts are necessary:

3.            The mode of coordination shifts from hierarchical bureaucracy to dynamic linking, i.e. to a way of dynamically linking self-driven knowledge work to the shifting requirements of delighting clients.

4.            There is a shift from value to values; i.e. a shift from a single-minded focus on economic value and maximizing efficiency to instilling the values that will create innovation and growth for the organization over the long term.

5.            Communications shift from command to conversation: i.e. a shift from top-down communications comprising predominantly hierarchical directives to communications made up largely of adult-to-adult conversations that solve problems and generate new insights.

Individually, none of these shifts is new. Each shift has been pursued individually in some organizations for some years.However when one of these shifts is pursued on its own, without the others, it tends to be unsustainable because it conflicts with the goals, attitudes and practices of traditional management. The five shifts are interdependent.

When the five shifts are undertaken simultaneously, the result is sustainable change that is radically more productive for the organization, more congenial to innovation, and more satisfying both for those doing the work and those for whom the work is done.

The practices to implement the five principles:

Reinventing Management: Part 2: Delighting the client

Reinventing Management: Part 3: From controller to enabler

Reinventing Management: Part 4: Coordination: From bureaucracy to dynamic linking

Reinventing Management: Part 5: From value to values


Steve uses the traditional tool of share price appreciation as an example. However, we need a different tool for the social sector.

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