• Strategy
  • The Economist

Survey: The Near Future

Peter Drucker explains how it will differ from today, and what needs to be done to prepare for it.

The first need is for a people policy that covers all those who work for an enterprise, whether they are employed by it or not. After all, the performance of every single one of them matters. So far, no one seems to have devised a satisfactory solution to this problem. Second, enterprises must attract, hold and make productive people who have reached official retirement age, have become independent outside contractors or are not available as full-time permanent employees. For example, highly skilled and educated older people, instead of being retired, might be offered a choice of continuing relationships that convert them into long-term “inside outsiders”, preserving their skill and knowledge for the enterprise and yet giving them the flexibility and freedom they expect and can afford.

There is a model for this, but it comes from academia rather than business: the professor emeritus, who has vacated his chair and no longer draws a salary. He remains free to teach as much as he wants, but gets paid only for what he does. Many emeriti do retire altogether, but perhaps as many as half continue to teach part-time, and many continue to do full-time research. A similar arrangement might well suit senior professionals in a business. A big American corporation is currently trying out such an arrangement for older top-level people in its law and tax departments, in research and development and in staff jobs. But for people in operating work, eg, sales or manufacturing, something different needs to be developed.

Outside information. Perhaps surprisingly, it can be argued that the information revolution has caused managements to be less well informed than they were before. They have more data, to be sure, but most of the information so readily made available by IT is about internal company matters. As this survey has shown, though, the most important changes affecting an institution today are likely to be outside ones, about which present information systems offer few clues.

One reason is that information about the outside world is not usually available in computer-useable form. It is not codified, nor is it usually quantified. This is why IT people, and their executive customers, tend to scorn information about the outside world as “anecdotal”. Moreover, far too many managers assume, wrongly, that the society they have known all their lives will remain the same forever.

Outside information is now becoming available on the Internet. Although this is still in totally disorganised form, it is now possible for managements to ask what outside information they need, as a first step towards devising a proper information system for collecting relevant information about the outside world.

Change agents. To survive and succeed, every organisation will have to turn itself into a change agent. The most effective way to manage change successfully is to create it. But experience has shown that grafting innovation on to a traditional enterprise does not work. The enterprise has to become a change agent. This requires the organised abandonment of things that have been shown to be unsuccessful, and the organised and continuous improvement of every product, service and process within the enterprise (which the Japanese call kaizen). It requires the exploitation of successes, especially unexpected and unplanned-for ones, and it requires systematic innovation. The point of becoming a change agent is that it changes the mindset of the entire organisation. Instead of seeing change as a threat, its people will come to consider it as an opportunity.

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