“They’re keeping an eye on you at work,” says the voice. “AI Is Pervasive in Our Everyday Lives.” “What People Don’t Like About Algorithm-Based Management.” We’re used to reading headlines that paint a dystopian future in which human creativity, judgment, and initiative are being eroded in favor of computer-based decision-making. There is a widespread belief that machines are replacing human judgment at work, hence increasing the technocratic and controlled nature of labor.
Also worth noting is the rise of firms that use technology to empower their employees and provide their executives more leeway in making strategic decisions.
Technology is at the heart of organizations’ efforts to organize around employees rather than management, as organizational structure scholars have discovered. A big portion of the success of companies that have restructured their structure, processes, and routines around their frontline personnel has been due to technology. If you’re looking to create greater autonomy and horizontal collaboration, we think these examples can help.
Without Coordinators, Coordination Isn’t Possible
As an example, consider Buurtzorg, the largest home health care provider in the Netherlands and the only one that covers the country. It is estimated that Buurtzorg has a nursing force of more than 10,000 people. However, the organization has only a tiny corporate office of around 50 employees and a group of 25 coaches to handle its activities.
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Instead, the organization relies on a proprietary IT platform called BuurtzorgWeb to manage the nurses.
However, are management’s algorithms and technology continually monitoring, managing, and instructing Buurtzorg’s nurses? No. When it comes to home care, instead of a single agency, there are more than a thousand separate self-managed teams. Teams do not have a designated leader; instead, decisions are made by a vote of the group, and members are free to employ and fire themselves.
By giving templates for self-management — such as organizing team meetings and dealing with difficult team dynamics – BuurtzorgWeb empowers these teams. Additionally, it gives each team with all the data they need to understand their own performance, such as team productivity, client and team member happiness, and team atmosphere metrics. A central hub that connects all the teams and allows each nurse to post concerns and queries and share ideas with each other is maybe the most essential feature of the platform. Distributed learning is supported and the thoughts of individuals on the front lines are elevated by this platform
Management-style advice but ultimately up to the team members is provided through these functions, which are far from dictatorial.
When There Is No One to Monitor You
In the absence of traditional managerial positions, IT platforms can assist ensure that teams are held to the same standards. Consider Haier, one of the world’s leading appliance manufacturers. Almost all of the company’s employees are divided into more than 4,000 micro businesses, each of which has its own P&L, personnel policies for hiring and firing employees, and a market-driven system for selecting which other micro businesses to cooperate with.
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EMC Workbench, Haier’s IT platform, streamlines the bidding and contracting processes to provide accountability in this complicated system. Everyone who works in or with a micro enterprise may see the goals they set and how well their members are doing in meeting those goals after they submit their contracts into the system. As a result of this transparency, microbusinesses and the individuals who work for them are held accountable for meeting the goals set forth in their contracts. In addition, EMC Workbench employs blockchain technology to automatically compute and distribute bonuses based on performance relative to goals.
Despite the fact that EMC Workbench enables Haier to operate this enormous and complicated internal market with minimal corporate overhead and middle management, the system does not really make decisions about what each micro company does; that is left to the people.
Without a Director in the Room
IT platforms and tools can be used by decentralized organizations in a third way: by bringing frontline workers even closer to customers, allowing them to make their own informed decisions rather than relying on guidance from the top down.
As Russia’s fastest-growing retail food chain, VkusVill, is organized as a network of more than 1,200 autonomous convenience stores, each of which is controlled by a team of 5 to 10 individuals who have full control over the store’s product and marketing offerings.
The VkusVill IT platform connects stores and customers via a set of digital solutions in order to promote this level of independence (i.e. apps, social networks). Customers are given an electronic receipt at the end of each visit that allows them to rate each item on a scale of 1 to 5, as well as provide additional comments.
Product ratings and consumer comments for each local store are regularly received through various channels, which help each team make decisions about what things to replenish, where to put them on the shelves, and at what price to sell them. VkusVill’s uniqueness is in the dynamic and local nature of the consumer feedback it collects and the access to the data it delivers to frontline personnel. VkusVill’s approach of local decentralized decision making works exactly because of its technological complexity, in contrast to other merchants, where data and decision rights are both owned by headquarters.
With no governors, governance is possible.
Organizations with no centralized corporate entity are beginning to form at their most extreme levels. Instead, these organizations are using blockchain technology to oversee and control relationships that traditionally require complex and centralized governance systems and the dreaded red tape.
In contrast to popular belief, the same blockchain technology that allows two people to exchange currency without the need for an intermediary is also being utilized to allow several individuals to coordinate their work activities in real time without the need for a middleman. It is possible to solve the four essential organizational difficulties of job division, task allocation, reward distribution and information sharing through the use of blockchain technology, rather than human beings.
After seven years as a centralized organization, ShapeShift has lately announced a change toward decentralization and blockchain technology that maintains integrity and trust. Decentralization isn’t possible for every firm, but blockchain technology has the ability to let people do their best work while allowing the technology to chain it together into complex products and solutions.
Technology employed in these platforms is not cutting edge, but what is actually innovative about these examples is that the technology is being used to elevate frontline employees’ judgment and ingenuity rather than to assert greater control over them or to minimize space for their judgment.
Even while automation is the purest form of decentralization and technology’s optimum application would be to automate managerial operations, especially middle management, rather than frontline personnel (e.g., coordination, accountability, direction, and governance). If technology is going to make something redundant, why not replace the things we don’t like (like our human colleagues) with those we don’t like (like overly matrixed coordination, red tape bureaucratic processes, command-and-control decision-making (by people who don’t have the best data to make the decisions) and antiquated compliance approaches?