Monday, December 29, 2008

Corporate culture shock and the IT revolution


By Robert Heller

Robert Heller is Britain's most renowned and best-selling author on business management. Author of more than 50 books, he was the founding editor of Management Today and the Global Future Forum. About his latest title, The Fusion Manager, Sir John Harvey-Jones wrote: "The future lies with the thinking manager, and the thinking manager must read this book". [more]

Back in 1990, a book I was commissioned to write by Rank Xerox was published. It was called Culture Shock: The Office Revolution.
I have to say that, before I began researching the book, I had no clear idea of where corporate culture might be heading as it absorbed all the frenetic developments of the Silicon Age.
But my revelation of revolution occurred in a Rank office in High Holborn, where I was shown a Chinese-born whiz-kid metaphorically crossing the Atlantic, travelling coast-to-coast to LA, and accessing a colleague's PC file to add his own input.
The conclusion to me seemed obvious. The networked PC was bound to conquer the world and revolutionise corporate culture across the globe. In particular, collaborative working suddenly had a whole new significance and potential. The subsequent advances have been massive across the board.
But back in 1990, many were blind to the revolution. Similarly, many didn't understand the significance of the World Wide Web when it was unleashed around three years after my book was published.
Even worse, many are still blind in 2008. Trouble lies ahead for them.
Directly linked to Wall Street's dot.com mania and downfall was ignorance of the real revolution. While Amazon was sneered at because it made no money for so long, there was a rush to invest in the day-dreams of con-men who lavished their venture capital on themselves up-front. Insane amounts were paid on the basis of 'hits' and 'eyeballs', and an unreal clientele was built up.
Unsurprisingly, most of these ventures ended in failure. No more surprisingly, those companies which operated in the real world with real markets, such as Amazon, stayed the course, making real breakthroughs and winning real rewards for their life-changing innovations. Competition had achieved total lunacy, as was the case with the sub-prime massacre years later.
The years that followed l990 were full of big disappointments (and vast ephemeral rewards) for followers of The Cult of Shareholder Value and The Cult of the Chief Executive. These two aberrations of corporate culture were naked invitations to maximise both the share price and the amounts which the boss could extract from the stock markets.
Regardless of all the fiascos and financial scandals, managerial IT is much fitter for purpose than it was in 1990 or 2000 – and so it should be. Those two Rank Xerox employees I witnessed working together while 7,000 miles apart represented forerunners of whole armies of collaborators, using shared and networked electronic information to remould their organisations, businesses and respective corporate cultures.
The Office is now everywhere and anywhere, and we're all home workers now. What's more, a worker's knowledge of what's actually happening inside their organisation and outside is much greater and gained much quicker.
The new cult is (or should be) the Cult of Collaboration, which I caught my first glimpse of in 1990.
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