"Social operating mechanisms" ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

social art.jpgRan Charan, who I wrote about a few days ago, made another excellent contribution to my thinking (and hopefully yours), the concept of "social operating mechanisms." He defines them as mechanisms that synchronise individual contributors' efforts.

A step back
Individualism vs. collectivism represent two personality-types. There are the managers, who are integrators and bring both groups together and (are supposed to) identify with the greater purpose of the organisation: maximisation of profit, etc. And there are individual contributors, who through their own efforts bring forth new data and growth, etc. These types are not always suited for management, as they need that freedom to be creative.

Social operating mechanisms fit within the framework of execution, in the sense that that is one of the last stages in a multi-stage process. As the leader/problem-solver of an organisation, you start by identifying a problem; you come up with a set number of fundamental priorities to solve the problem; and you (design social operating mechanisms to) spread that solution throughout your organisation.

An example
Mr. Charan mentions a number of examples, but (for obvious reasons perhaps), I like the Wal-Mart one the best.

  • In the early 90s, every Monday to Wednesday, ca. 30 regional managers visited 9 Wal-Mart stores and 6 competitor-ones, to check if Wal-Mart's strategy of offering lower prices than the competition was being implemented correctly.
  • Every Thursday-morning, Sam Walton conducted a 4-hour session with a group of 50 people, including those regional managers, buyers, logistics- and advertising people to discuss the status quo, what was going right and wrong, and the future.
The results of these managers visiting the "real world" and the immediate discussion of that data enabled Wal-Mart to stay in touch with what was happening and respond quickly to problems.

Making it relevant?
If this seems like a big-company problem, maybe so. But even on a smaller scale, you could see a similar process happening in the week of a franchise-owner, I discussed a few weeks ago.

As soon as an organisation grows beyond a few people, the barriers between your customers and the leadership of an organisation increase. The politics can be frustrating and are one of the main reasons why original founders leave. The Amazon-story, which I wrote about a while ago, and which also discusses of how Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon tries to keep in touch with the core-principles of Amazon, is also an example of a social operating mechanism.

Naturally, today's reality is somewhat different from the time (2000) that the book was published. We have "the internet" now, which should make creating social mechanisms a much easier to solve. I say 'should' as opposed to 'will,' because it still requires the necessary cohesion, which many technological solutions (in my opinion) are still lacking.

It still comes down to designing people-processes which help you implement core-priorities, and having the tolerance for, let's call them, idiotic decisions that sometimes come from the type of group-think often prevalent in organisations.

The picture is courtesy of infed.org


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