In every successful company’s life cycle, there’s a point when the company “grows up” and gets big. It has nothing to do with sales and profitability. It’s a cultural shift. And it can be an awful thing.
The tectonic plates of bureaucracy are set in motion. The productivity landscape buckles. It goes from being a flat plane over which ideas can travel and gel in any direction to being rocky, jagged, and disorienting. Ideas must climb mountains for affirmation. And to get there, they must navigate perilous crags and cliffs, often falling to their death before ever reaching the summits of endorsement.
At Google, Larry Page seems to be combating this phenomenon by “asking product and engineering managers to email him about their projects to potentially winnow them down.”
Nilofer Merchant doesn't think it will work:
It’s what a 20th century manager would do. To ask for information to flow up and down a hierarchical chain of command slows things down. It’s old school. As soon as Larry Page does this, he is putting himself in a position as “Chief of Answers,” a term I used in my first book to describe leaders who work on being the smartest guy in the room. The problem with the “Chief of Answers” concept is just this: it makes everyone else the “Tribe of Doing Things.” It disables rather than enables people to co-create. It moves power away from the people and towards titled leadership.
Can Google, one of the 21st century’s greatest models of flat, co-creative employee-driven innovation, maintain a non-20th century approach to the management of its employees?