It’s been a long time coming, but the last ten years has seen a paradigm shift from command and control to open-source platforms and participatory movements. This is largely due to the development and democratization of technology advances, which has put the power in the hands of millions of individuals worldwide.
This has caused ripples not only in technology, but in expectations in transparency, distribution of knowledge and accountability across organizations. Knowledge is now more distributed and accessible; it is encouraged to share work experiences and to question the status quo. Value is placed on how knowledge is pooled and used rather than having the knowledge itself. This shift is impacting how we manage people, how organizations make decisions, what organizations have to offer employees, how they interact on social media platforms, as well as how connected employees feel to their organizations. It is also impacting change maturity in organizations who are starting to wake up to the reality that top-down command and control cannot work on its own. It has also impacted the shift in organizational change management to change leadership and the rise of human-centric approaches to leading change.
What is this shift called?
In 2018 Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms developed the concept of New Power and Old Power. They sum up this shift in the world and business perfectly; Old Power works like currency, it’s held by a few, and once gained it’s dangerously guarded. It is inaccessible, closed and leader driven. Whereas New Power operates like a current, and it is made by many, open, participatory and peer driven. Like electricity and water, it’s most forceful with it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it, but to channel it.
What’s most important about this concept is that neither is good nor bad. However, either could be harnessed for wrong doing and to cause harm. There is a place in the world for both new and old power and balance is incredibly important.
Henry gave an incredible example in describing his appendectomy. He went to a reputable doctor with the specializations, accreditations, and exclusive access to touch the inside of someone’s body. He would never have gone to a hippy-dippy practitioner with no accreditations and who would ask for an audience to co-create as they went. We need things like expertise.
Where new power can get dangerous is when people start to dismiss expertise all together and begin to use the tools of new power to start movements, e.g., anti-vaxxers and climate deniers. We need old power professionals to embrace new power tools to enter the marketplace and provide empirical research to combat the harm spewed.
New power is a 21st Century skill to harness the energy of connected crowds to make movements, rally people around your ideas, empower people, leverage collective wisdom, and create supportive campaigns, e.g., #MeToo. The people and organizations who can work out how to use this 21st Century skill will end up on top, and those who cannot, will fall out of relevance very quickly.
What does this mean for organizations?
Many organizations are responding to new power by redefining their employee value proposition and competing for top talent by winning over the hearts and minds of their people with value aligned and life-friendly business practices – a far step away from salary wars of the past.
Embracing new power as an organization does not mean throwing out the constraints, protocols, and policies. It takes reflecting about what old power models are absolutely required for success, and then releasing some control. New power can influence your values and your internal infrastructure. How an organization values and models power will reveal a lot about their culture. Heimans and Timms depict this in the following matrix, where they map old and new power values against old and new power business models.
- Castles: Organizations who opt for secrecy, exclusivity, pushing products from the top down and aggressive protection of IP.
- Connectors: Organizations who depend on participation of the masses but also seem to ignore the wishes of its community.
- Cheerleaders: Organizations who are more traditional but take on new power values such as radical transparency and they continue to evolve internally.
- Crowds: Organizations who are peer-driven and celebrate the power of the crowd. Where people are the makers and self-organization is enabled and encouraged
How to harness it for Organizational Change?
When organizations go through any type of disruption there is always a natural dip in productivity. Just like when I get a new laptop and need to learn the feel of the new keyboard, there is always a dip. The aim of organizational change projects is to realize project benefits by supporting the people through the transition as smoothly as possible, and in doing so mitigating that productivity dip.
So, it goes without saying, that when we have an opportunity to help employees develop a sense of purpose, ownership, and understanding in the transition we will increase the likelihood of success while decreasing the productivity dip.
Here are my examples of new power values in action:
- Radical Transparency: dropping formality and memos. Keeping it real with employees and when there is ambiguity, we let them know. This develops understanding and trust.
- Crowd Wisdom: dropping best practice and co-creating strategies that focused on a practice we want to commit to.
- Open-Sourced Collaboration: removing the restrictions of in-house software and setting the challenge for the best insight no matter where it comes from.
- Maker Culture: removing hierarchy and ego-driven decision making to create failing forward ideation labs
While new power tools and values are substantially more powerful in driving organizational change, it is important to first understand where your client is at i.e., the organizational culture and power model they operate in. Remember that the change methodology and tools you use should be right for that organization, that project and that overall outcome. Spending time up front to fully understand the current state will enable you to develop a strong strategy and bridge the gap. It will also give you time to coach leaders and understand how their vision and overall outcome comes to life from a behavioral and mindset perspective. When discussing this with one of my own clients who operated squarely in old power, we came to find that benefit realization looked like adopting long term new power values. So, we peppered new power tools to demonstrate this shift throughout the project. This approach would have been shot down if I didn’t spend the time understanding the client organization and project first.
Heimans and Timms provide us with a key prototype for organizations who are looking to implement more new power values and tools into their old power modeled organization. They call out three characters required for success for this shift:
- The Shape Shifter – someone who has a lot of credibility in the old power world who starts to change their thinking and behavior and sets an example for others to follow.
- The Digital Bridge – someone who is in charge or taking the work forward in the organization and navigates between old and new power.
- The Solution Seeker – this person is not the problem solver. This is someone who looks to find solutions no matter where they come from. Most times this person is NOT on your payroll.
I often play the role of the Solution Seeker with my clients. Do you have these characters?
In summary, the transition to New Power values, driven by technological advancements and democratization, has fundamentally reshaped organizational dynamics over the past decade. It signifies a shift from hierarchical control to participatory collaboration, from the hoarding of knowledge to the harnessing of collective wisdom. While both Old Power and New Power have their roles to play, striking a balance between them is essential. Organizations embracing New Power are redefining their value propositions, fostering transparent cultures, and prioritizing values alignment, all while remaining adaptable to change.
Harnessing New Power for organizational transformation involves cultivating purpose, ownership, and understanding among employees. Examples include radical transparency, crowd-sourced strategies, open collaboration, and fostering a maker culture. To succeed in this evolving landscape, organizations must adapt their strategies to their unique cultures and power models. The key lies in nurturing individuals who can bridge the gap between Old Power and New Power, lead by example, and actively seek solutions from diverse sources. In this 21st-century paradigm, those who master New Power will thrive, while those who resist change risk becoming obsolete in an increasingly dynamic world.
Learn more about our Author: Cristina is a 90’s dance music loving, down to earth professional with a flare for keeping it real. She is fiercely committed to supporting organizations and individuals to unlock potential and grow with purpose. She has a demonstrated history of supporting clients, nationally and globally, through organizational transformation initiatives. Her strategy and transformation projects span technology, culture, experience programs, people and mindset, and place. As an educator she helps organizations and leadership teams build trust and develop cohesion and the skills to develop high-performing teams. With the ability to work across multiple verticals and industries, she is passionate about developing creative, meaningful and measurable solutions for organizations. She is a community builder and advocate for people-centered business practices and is a champion of new power models which acknowledges the wisdom of the collective. In action, she leads with compassion, directs with candor, and manages with agility.
*Disclaimer: This post was not generated by A.I. It is indeed written by a real life human. A pretty cool human in fact.