Don’t Transform. Transcend

By Doug Kirkpatrick

Dizzying and accelerating change envelops our daily lives. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, robotics, and myriad other technologies are disruptively altering our world (we’ve already advanced beyond 3D printing into 4D). The uneasy mix of generations in the workplace, each with different expectations, challenges our most basic views regarding work and life. Black swans are more than ready to swim into view at any time, with surprising and painful impacts (like the coronavirus).

Unfortunately, like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it repeatedly fall to the bottom for all eternity, we continue to organize companies the same way we organized railroads in the 1840s when information moved a single character at a time via Morse code. In an age when information moves everywhere at the speed of light over networks of glass, might it be time to create organizations that mirror the agility, speed, and power of the information networks that serve them?

The catchphrase of the day seems to be ‘transformation’. Management consultants evangelize transformation and promise to transform organizations from one thing to another. The underlying questions always remain: transform from what into what? How will you know when you have transformed? What does transformation even mean, exactly?

Perhaps it’s time to think beyond transformation and consider terms of transcendence instead. What are the things we’re trying to get beyond? The list might include costly and stale bureaucracy, dehumanizing HR practices, disengagement, wasted time, unnecessary permission steps, power trips, egomania, and dysfunctional silos. If we’re going to transcend those negatives, we’ll need a language and nomenclature that elevates our vision and enables us to focus on the possibilities for greatness. Words like mindfulness, consciousness, belonging, meaning, purpose and compassion are the “transcendentals” that philosopher Peter Koestenbaum proposes we consider for inclusion in the new taxonomy of transcendence at work.

We aim too low when we engage in business around Taylorism, KPIs, OKRs, metrics, measures, performance evaluations, PIPs, 360s, training and traditional notions of leadership development. Creating resilient, dynamic networks that allow people to make decisions and act on information in real-time and that concentrate on the transcendentals will humanize organizations and drive performance more than any traditional performance management system could possibly achieve.