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The Consumerization of Management, Part 1

by Mark P. McDonald  |  June 21, 2012  |  6 Comments

This week I attended the MIX Mash-Up,  a unique event bringing together business leaders to discuss the need to re-invent management.  Throughout presentations and discussions at the event a few things became clear.   There is a silent crisis in many organizations.  Executives know that do not have the right form of management but they are unsure of what to do. I believe that is because management is in a transition based on the forces of consumerism that is currently reshaping markets and technology.

Technology is changing the nature of work and the terms of management. By creating a work environment that is:

  • Connected in terms of bringing people together where ever and when ever without restrictions based on position in the organization.
  • Information intensive focusing on data and decisions as the key resources for creating value, directing processes and producing outcomes.
  • Open in the sense that barriers to resources, expertise and productive capacity are falling in the world of globalized supply chain, trade and services.
  • Innovation intensive as growth becomes harder to achieve, sustain and extend in a more competitive, complicated, and constrained market.  Where there is slow or challenging growth, there is a greater need for innovation.

The consumerization of management reflects a range of forces redefining the nature of work and the workplace.  Technology shifts the balance of power in the marketplace giving consumers more choice, control and confidence.  Technology reshapes markets and the terms of competition.  Just ask the music, travel, publishing, advertising, automobile, consumer products and others industries about the changing nature of consumerism.

The workplace was based on the idea that the company was the consumer and the employees the providers.  Our role as individuals was to become wage slaves selling our time and attention to companies in exchange for compensation, resources and a place in the organizational hierarchy.  In this model the company held all of the cards because they held the cash and control of the opportunities.  As technology opens things up, that shift is changing the distribution of power, particularly for the judgment workers who have the greatest impact.  These professionals demand a workplace that is:

  • Providing opportunities to work on significant issues that matter to themselves, the company and society.  Good people want to work on things that matter.  The move by many organizations toward more socially conscious missions and strategies is as much a strategy for engagement as it is a desire for socially responsible.
  • Creating greater participation in the workplace and reducing the pejorative relationships within the organization.  People want a say in their work, the people they work with and the way they do their work.  You see this in popular business press like the Robert Sutton ‘s book “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.”  As one executive told me, life is too short to work with jerks.
  • Greater transparency and less talk so the organization has the knowledge it needs to act rather than take blind jumps based on gossip and superstition.  Transparency levels the playing field, the performance measures and the potential for improvement.

Traditional management with its focus on command, control and divisionalization is not well suited for this environment.  This raises questions concerning the types of management that are well suited to this environment.

The simple answer is to say that No Management is Required as illustrated by examples at W.L. Gore, Morningstar  or Valve Corp.  But look at those cases and while you may not see anyone with the title manager, you see everyone performing the work of management.  The consumers become managers of themselves, in collaboration with each other and in relationship to the challenges, commitments and capabilities they bring to the organization.

The consumerization of management calls for re-imaging and redistributing the work of management throughout an organization.  Just as power, control and choice have shifted to the consumer, so too has the work, responsibility and commitments of management.  Shifted not to another class of managers, but shifted to everyone as we recognize that we both the producers and consumers of the outcome of effective management which is human achievement.

Subsequent posts will discuss what the consumerization of management might mean to management tasks and activities, but for now I would welcome your ideas, thoughts and reactions to get the discussion going on this important topic that touches each of us.

Category: innovation  leadership  management  

Tags: business-leadership  business-management  consumerization  leadership  management  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

Thoughts on The Consumerization of Management, Part 1

  1. Maddie Grant says:

    Agree 100% – it’s not about getting rid of management, it’s about redefining what management is there for. We tried to start that redefinition here in our Future of Work manifesto - and I feel this conversation bubbling up everywhere. Social business success will force traditional management to confront itself, sooner or later, and I think it’s up to people like us who were at the Mix to help focus that effort. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you in person, but I definitely followed your tweets! Awesome stuff.

  2. john buck says:

    An answer to the “silent crisis” has been developed by a Dutch electrical engineering firm. It works with cybernetic principles and uses both/and thinking: everyone is simultaneously both in a hierarchy and completely equivalent. See

  3. […] The Consumerization of Management, Part 1 […]

  4. I experienced the restructuring of management myself working as CIO. It is hard to deal with these changes, since most of the business software is still relying on top down approaches, where there are only a few experts working apart from the rest of the company.

    I believe that approaches like “no management” or “management of everybody” will be not the future. But I think that the process of management will change drastically. More people will be collecting information and sharing their experience. Management decision will be more transparent, based on more information and therefore better. But still every decision is based on having different options with different pros and cons. So some kind of responsibility and therefore hierarchy is necessary. Integrating more people into the process of decision making will make decisions more comprehensible. I think social media needs to be implemented into business software, so that it is easy to collect information and discuss management topics. Up to now only few approaches like this exist. We founded the software company treibglas to develop “social business software”. Right now we are hitting the market with our first product an application portfolio management tool based on social media approaches. I will be happy to share my experiences in the future.

  5. Mark P. McDonald says:

    Jorg, Thanks for your complete and thoughtful comments. I concur that the nature of management, its techniques and practices will change. There will always be a need for management the discipline, but I am not sure that there will always be the role called manager in the same sense that we know it now.

    I agree that technologies need to change and that social media has real potential to change the nature of information, its flows and collaboration. That was part of the reason why we wrote the book The Social Organization.

    Thanks for your comments and I look forward to your thoughts on upcoming posts on the consumerization of management.

  6. […] The Consumerization of Management, Part 1 […]

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