“Command and control is dead”: the shape of next gen organisations is social networks


Image: John Chambers, CEO of Cisco: “command and control is dead”.

A lot of the questions I have had floating around my head for the past few years are beginning to be answered by innovative companies. Questions about how you manage companies, organisations, in the age of networks, when you have to move beyond the cloying constrictions of command and control hierarchies.

I was listening to a fantastic episode of Peter Day’s Global Business (can’t find it to link to on the BBC website – subscribe to it on iTunes if you don’t already). He was interviewing John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, about how the company was developing to keep up witht he pace of the web revolution.

The answer was that over the past two years Mr Chambers has been tearing down command and control as a way of doing things at Cisco. Why? Because “command and control is dead”, as will the companies that cling to it over the next five to ten years, he says.

Hunting around for more on the Cisco approach, I came across this lecture (can’t embed the video, please follow the link) John Chambers gave at MIT in January. It’s very, very good indeed – my ears pricked up especially at about 18 minutes in when he started talking about managing the 65.000 person business via social netowrks.

  • Uses a system of global councils (which build around a social networking group) to tackle any business need or challenge – they sketch out an outline approach within a couple of days and have a business plan in place in a couple of weeks (each council on market opportunities tends to be looking at $10 billion+ markets).
  • This networked, cross-functional approach is prioritised for all. Leaders are incentivised most of all on cross-functional success. [This is brilliant – focusing energy on tearing down divisions, siloes etc.] Behaviours changed very quickly once incentives were altered.
  • “I have 26 [of these Global Council networks] at the moment – I think it may be too few.” Previously Cisco’s operating committee were able to to tackle perhaps two or three of these issues a year.
  • “Speed and scale” – this is the imperative for adopting networks as a way of working. More gets done faster.
    “I blog. I would never have said I would blog two years ago. I video blog all of my messaging.”
  • Currently there Social networking approach means that instead of bringing 10 top leaders to bear on problems in the company he is able to get 50 to 500 leading. [Flatter organisations mean more leaders.]
  • Listen to how he had to adapt as a leader (59 minutes) – this was an effort of will for John personally. He had to sit on his hands and learn how not to be directive, among other things. But very quickly people were “making better decisions than I could have”.