Boxing the boxes

Daniel McCallum may not be a name that rings a bell. But for anyone who carries a title on the business card, has a boss and a bunch of people ‘reporting in’, saying a word of thanks to McCallum is long overdue. Way back in the 1857, he put together the first org chart, as its called now.

They went on to become much popular and more widely adopted much later, in the early twentieth century As an employee of the New York and Erie railroad company, this was his way of ensuring the trains didn’t run into each other. His principles of management were simple. He lists six and I quote from Wikipedia.

First. A proper division of responsibilities.
Second. Sufficient power conferred to enable the same to be fully carried out, that such responsibilities may be real in their character.
Third. The means of knowing whether such responsibilities are faithfully executed.
Fourth. Great promptness in the report of all dereliction of duty, that evils may at once be corrected.
Fifth. Such information to be obtained through a system of daily reports and checks that will not embarrass principal officers nor lessen their influence with their subordinates.
Sixth. The adoption of a system, as a whole, which will not only enable the general superintendent to detect errors immediately, but will also point out the delinquent.

About the core principle of management, he summarized:  All that is required to render tho efforts of railroad companies in every respect equal to that of individuals, is a rigid system of personal accountability through every grade of service”.

Do take a minute to go over words and phrases above. ‘Sufficient power’. ‘faithfully executed’. ‘derelections of duty’. ‘evils may at once be corrected’. ‘point out the delinquent’. Pause for a minute and think about these. Do they sound like belonging to another age? Well, they do to me.

Clay Shirky in his book ‘Here comes everybody’ makes a pointed reference to point number five. Go over point five again and you will realise how far we have come, and why many forms of ‘social’ still continue to be unpopular within the confines of the boxes in the hierarchies, while enveloping influence across society. Suddenly many things become clear.

Much change is upon us, isnt it?  So much has changed since the first trains started chugging. And modern day digital tools have made it pointedly easy for people to converse, come together, organise themselves and create meaningful stuff sans the need for a hierarchy. While quoting the Arab Spring movement, Occupy movement could well seem cliched, you cant take away the fact that they all flourished without an established hierarchy where power and authority was formally devolved. Nevertheless these have been successful.

Hierarchies though continue to thrive. Within the boundaries of corporations and business. They have their place as well. The pain begins when hierarchies are seen as the only form of coming together, sometimes seemingly in blissful ignorance of how other forms of community, coming together and creating value are emerging and thriving.

What is clearly emerging though, is this.

1. Even within well established hierarchies, beneath the solid and dotted lines, and the well stacked ladder of boxes, ‘influence’ is getting fresh new soul. Influence always peeked out from the boxes through individual competence. Every organisation has some folklore of some junior manager who was sought out for advice when a specific problem came up. But for ages, the title on the boxes could simply override competence.

Only now, people have found new ways of sharing thoughts and engaging with each other. Conversing, collaborating and meaningfully engaging. And that means that the good old junior manager who was sought out to fix the problem, has a more definitive chance of influencing a wider set of people across the organisation! Across industry. Influence is fast moving out of the box to those that really are able to engage and contribute in a meaningful way.

What does this mean in the modern day?
a. The ‘occupiers of the boxes’, (they perhaps have earned it or have had it thrust upon them) must thus move beyond the authority that the boxes bestow and strive to earn real influence. That is a whole new language. This also consciously means unlearning and relearning the language of the modern day world. This is the challenge for leaders of our present day.
b. Real influence comes with sharing of expertise, connecting people and helping people solve problems. Modern social tools offer an opportunity to scale this to exponential levels, in only one learns the proper usage and adoption of such tools.
c. In the connected world, boundaries are meaningless. At best, they serve as administrative requirements. In the modern day, influence is garnered by going well past organisational boundaries and collaborate. Oftentimes the walls of the big box in which the many small boxes sit themselves are fusing. Influence is moving beyond the organisation

Box the hierarchy. Throw it into a corner. Talk like normal people do. Without the weight of the designation on the business card. The next time we meet, talk to me as you. Without the box.