The Leading Edge - Goodbye GE, hello Google

One of Freud’s dictums was: “Where id is, let ego be.” In essence, replace your runaway impulses (Id) with a more reason/reality driven (Ego) approach to life. Not a bad guide to live by, given the times of Freud and the rise of Germany in early/middle part of the last century.

Something more apropos for today’s corporate world might be: “Where ‘hub and spoke’ is let ‘triads’ be.”

For “hub and spoke” think GE under Jack Welch; for “triad” think of the open source approach under Google.

Under “hub and spoke” you have a powerful leader that everyone relates to and through. The good news for the leader is that he/she gets to be in control; the bad news for everyone else is that the “spokes” get into a “sibling rivalry” for the attention of the leader, feel a “zero sum” competition between each other including occasional feelings of paranoia and consciously or unconsciously undermine each other rather than working to help each other. This also can make succession difficult, because often that powerful figure is difficult to replicate.

With a “triad” the leader has a vision, hired the best people, but then facilitates relationships between the spokes in as completely an open, transparent and mutually supportive way possible. Trust and generosity is placed from the leader into the other members of the triad.

With “hub and spoke” the leader appears to hoard power(despite words to the contrary) and instead of trust and generosity directs fierce accountability towards the spokes with the edict that the bottom will be sloughed off to maintain optimal performance. Such a culture may get performance in the short run that shareholders will like, but few people will enjoy working at such places (even if they are richly rewarded with stock options).

Given the success of Google and the trials and tribulations of GE (despite Jeff Immelt trying to move away from a “hub and spoke” culture), hub and spoke may be an idea whose time has come…and gone.

To learn more about this, check out the best management and best book on cultural transformation that I have read in many years. It’s entitled Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King and Halee-Fischer-Wright.

There are just too many potent and relevant insights from the book to go into now, so I will go into more in weeks to come. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

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