Archives for posts with tag: Bureaucracies

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Image: Courtesy of waxinandmilkin

For the sake of scaling, enterprises tend to create internal service divisions that are bureaucratic and monopolistic: Accounting, Procurement, R&D, Human Resources are usually run as subsidized monopolies. The pool that pays for their services is covered by an overhead charge imposed on the units served.

In general, subsidized monopolies are generally insensitive and unresponsive to the users of their services, but they are sensitive and responsive to those who subsidize them. Subsidizers are often not users of the service, hence less aware of the services’ deficiencies from the users’ point of view. In addition, bureaucracies try to ensure their survival by becoming as large as possible; they operate on the (not unreasonable) assumption that the larger they are, the more important they are and the more difficult they are to eliminate.

Centrally controlled corporations stimulate the increases in costs of internally provided products and services because the supplying units do not need to compare their costs and prices with those of external suppliers. How can you value a subsidized internal unit? It’s impossible. In a market controlled enterprise, users, not subsidizers, evaluate suppliers and express their evaluation in a way that counts – by their purchases.

As organizations of any kind become larger and more complex, the ability of centralized controllers to know all they need to know to manage their organizations effectively diminishes. Thats’s why an enterprise based on market economy works better in large systems: it disperses economic control among many enterprises that must compete with others in order to survive. And survival requires meeting or exceeding the expectations of customers and consumers.

Market Enterprise

A few requirements are important for an internal market economy to work within an enterprise:

  • Every unit within the enterprise has to be either a profit center or a cost center that is part of a profit center that is responsible for the cost center’s performance. Profit Centers are not always expected profitable but they have to be accountable.
  • Profit Centers have the freedom to buy any service or product they want from whatever source they want, and to sell their outputs to whomever they want at whatever price they want or are are willing to accept.
  • A corporate unit that reduces the value of the corporation shouldn’t be part of it no matter how profitable it is when looked at separately. For that reason, the enterprise has the ability to intervene in a unit’s purchases and sales bot only when it benefits an organization as a whole.
  • If there any executive reasons to buy services from internal resources even though outside suppliers are cheaper, the executive can force the unit to buy from within but has to pay the difference out of his own unit’s budget. This means that a selling unit will never have to sell its output at a price lower than it wants to and can.
  • A manager doesn’t tell his or her subordinate units what to buy and sell unless a negative effect on other parts of the corporation or the corporation as a whole can be perceived.
  • The executive units receives income from two sources: a) it charges for the operating and investment capital it supplies to subordinate units b) it imposes a tax on the profitability of each unit.
  • Each profit center can accumulate profit up to a certain level that all stakeholders agreed on. Profits in excess of the specified amount will be passed up to the corporate level for its use.

Why a market enterprise?

Every enterprise unit operating within an internal market economy becomes a profit center. Therefore, for each unit the same success metrics can be applied. It allows managers to hone their skills better since they have a lot of autonomy and it gives each stakeholder an opportunity shine. Managers will be more concerned to get all the information they need to run a profitable unit and offering that information to other units to improve interactions.

The biggest challenge in implementing this system is the tendency of managers to withhold information. They fail to see that empowering all stakeholders might decrease their stranglehold on information and power but, at the same time, empowers all stakeholders to run a much more profitable organization. And an organization everybody is invested in. It is often recommended to remove managers that are more concerned with their own power base and not the overall health of the organization.

These managers often form connections with units that are unable to compete effectively or are no longer needed in the enterprise. While dealing with these challenges, the enterprise should never forget that without converting to a market enterprise, the whole organization might become extinct.

In the next installment, we will talk about organizational structures.

Previous installations can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7, Part 8.

Screen shot 2010-06-10 at 11.18.36 AM

The World Cup is upon us and as a lifelong soccer fan and player, I reflected on a few insights that the soccer game taught me that can be applied to small and large businesses.

1. Embrace and live your culture

I started playing soccer when I was 5. We practiced twice a week and played each Saturday. Raised in Germany, our practice consisted of 90 minutes running and 30 minute playing time. Fairly insane when you think about it: forcing 5-year-olds to run for 90 minutes through the forest or doing laps after laps. But that’s the German culture for you. We were no masters on the ball but my team could outrun anyone. We won 90% of our games in the last 10 minutes because we never tired. (I hope there’s more balance in today’s practices in Germany, though)

Each country has a specific soccer culture: the playfulness of Brazil, the physical intimidation of England, the defensive discipline of Italy, the exuberance of African teams. While you need to embrace and live your culture to be successful, you shouldn’t fall in love with it and be always open to change. Brazil wasn’t a dominant force in the 70’s and 80’s because they focused too much on playfulness and not enough on execution. Once they added execution into the mix, matches and World Cup’s were won again.

2.) Hire entrepreneurs

Most soccer coaches last only for a few years. It’s a tough job to gather all your players from clubs all over the world, fight internal bureaucracies and deal with the press. Coaches, just like players, are superstars. They have to take huge risks in order to succeed and most of them fail. Just to rise on some other bench to try it again.

Soccer is a team sport but individual decisions make or break a team. The collective approach to soccer will always fail. Both coach and player are entrepreneurs, and the more creativity they display, the more leeway they are given. Coach and players have two different tools of influence to impact the outcome of the game.

The coach can create a cohesive, yet competitive culture that rewards creativity and innovation, build team spirit and nurture team culture. He has strategic tools at his hand (formations, substitutions, etc.) but his input won’t lead to innovation or moving the game to a new level.

This is done by 22 feet of 11 individual players. Players innovate on a daily basis to get a small but significant competitive advantage. They need to surprise other players with new ways of dribbling, moving, passing and reacting. The coach is there to create the right environment for players to innovate. Daily. With every move.

3.) Dramatic innovation is rare. Daily innovation a must.

As a soccer aficionado, it’s very interesting to watch games from the past and compare them to today’s sport. The game was much slower, formations not as fluid as they are today and positions have been redefined over the years. But, what’s even more intriguing is that these changes take years to really come to life. Franz Beckenbauer perfected the position of “Libero”, the “sweeper” before the goal-keeper, freeing him from marking a direct opponent. (Rather revolutionary, if you think about it: Instead of marking a person, you’re defending a zone.) He played his first World Cup in 1966, not really filling the position of Libero yet. In 1970, he showed massive improvements on this new style of play but it took him until 1974, when he crowned his career with a World Cup win and a performance that showcased his evolution from support player to innovator.

Innovation didn’t happen in one game. It happened over more than a decade. And influenced generations to come.

4.) Don’t blame technology. Don’t worship technology. Just use it.

Each time the World Cup comes around, there’s a lot of talk about the new ball. Some people fear it, some embrace it. Most players don’t care. The ball is just a tool they use to accomplish a task. Because it’s new, players will have to find the challenges/dead spots when handling or shooting it. Introducing a new ball right ahead of the biggest sporting event seems wrong. But it is a great way to determine the best playing team and the team that answered this challenge with a strong creative approach. There’s nothing to fear. And a lot to explore.

5.) Play. Hard.

I could write about the beauty of soccer, get all poetic and philosophical. But the real beauty of this sport is that’s it’s still a game. When players have a creative thought, they can implement this idea immediately. And fail. Or succeed. At the heart of American Football is strategy. Creativity is not rewarded. At the heart of soccer is creativity. (Based on a foundation of technical excellence, supreme conditioning and mental toughness.)

Tomorrow the World Cup begins. A clean slate. For all we know, North Korea might win it this time. Or South Africa. History exists only in the books and in our heads. On the grass, there’s no history. Just opportunity. Possibilities. The best playing team will win the tournament.

And, that’s the most important lesson soccer can teach business: Business is a game that reinvents itself each and every day. The basic rules remain the same, your team defines how to play with these rules creatively. As an executive, it’s your responsibility to assemble the best players, to lay down the rules and develop plans. At the end of the day, the players have to play to move your business. Let them play. And enjoy each moment of it.