Orchestration Is New Command and Control

September 2, 2010 by  

In the tangible economy, mechanization and mass production drove huge productivity gains as manufactured goods replaced those made by hand. These efficiencies came through strict discipline. Managers could describe to their employees in great detail the smartest way to accomplish their work: “Take Part A, attach these two screws then join Part A to Part B.”  Through time and motion studies, the fastest and most efficient way to do things could be identified. To achieve these results, employees had to adhere to strict guidelines. In such an organization, decision-making was an activity that resided with management. Like military commanders, the word of managers was the guide for corporate action. This was a classic command and control model.

But in today’s world, your company is really a series of networks. These networks include both internal and external players. Knowledge is dispersed throughout the network—it is not concentrated in the managerial class. And the organization needs that knowledge to succeed. This means that a traditional hierarchical approach where knowledge and power flow from the top down will not get you the results you need. To describe this model, we borrow the image of orchestration from Peter Drucker.

Drucker used the metaphor of the orchestra conductor over and over again to describe the challenge of management in the knowledge era. He explained that an orchestra conductor does not know how to play each of the instruments of an orchestra.  Yet, the conductor clearly is the leader and manager of the team making up the orchestra. In his or her work, the conductor cannot and should not get too deeply into the technical details of each individual instrument and musician.  Rather, the conductor chooses the music, sets the pace, and ensures that all the musicians are playing together. “A great orchestra,” he asserted, “is not composed of great instrumentalists but of adequate ones who produce at their peak.”

Sound easy? Of course not. But it captures the essence of the challenge of management in the knowledge era. And makes it clear that a new management model is needed because workers underneath a manager have special talents and skills that the manager does not possess. This approach contrasts sharply with the widely understood dynamic in the industrial model. Industrial workers were expected to do as they were told. They were not valued for their knowledge or creativity. While this is an overly simplistic statement, it is more true than most people would care to admit, even today. Because the majority of organizations are still set up as if they were running factories where workers are interchangeable and dispensable—rather than businesses dependent on knowledge workers to create and preserve competitive advantage.

Adapted from Intangible Capital: Putting Knowledge to Work in the 21st Century Organization by Mary Adams and Michael Oleksak.

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