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The Open Organization – Igniting Passion and Performance

Jim Whitehurst, Harvard Business Review, 227 Seiten, 2015

Google, Wikipedia, Red Hat and others – companies and entities of a new organizational structure – increasingly shape our society, economy and lives. Many established companies stand by watching this trend wondering what these new businesses do differently and sometimes downplay the importance of the “new kids on the block”. Jim Whitehurst, CEO at Red Hat and author of the book The Open Organization, points out that these modern companies are not just some trend for Millennials but actually signify a new organization model – the Open Organization.

In his book he answers the question which many CEOs already might have asked themselves: How can we make our company more open, agile, innovative and on the cutting edge? His answer: Turn it into an Open Organization. The author defines the ambiguous term as an organization that engages participative communities both in- and outside the company. Employees are appreciated as contributors and their needs and wishes are regarded as equally important as the CEO’s in this form of organization. This creates greater enthusiasm for the company’s course than possible in hierarchical structures. When searching for a new mission statement at Red Hat, a leading software firm, everyone could contribute their ideas and vote for their favourite proposals through an internal forum. The result is a common credo that is enthusiastically lived by all. If your workers are ready to fight for their company because they feel connected to it strong shocks like a looming bankruptcy can be dealt with. Whitehurst gives the example of how he averted bankruptcy of Delta Airlines when he was their CEO by communicating actively with the whole company and uniting them behind his decision. Google is another good example of how its community consistently drives its success.

Open Organisations also engage external stakeholders, taping into their collective intelligence. This gives your company a better feeling for current trends as well as a direction for the future. The just described cases may need certain conditions to be met to yield good outcomes. Jim Whitehurst identifies measures you need to take so that your organization can be an Open Organization. The first is to know and embody your mission statement, your license to operate or more straightforward: why you do what you do. This is the fundament for true enthusiasm and every employee’s commitment whether janitor or CEO. This is also important for the next step: knowing how to attract and retain talented people – your most valuable assets. In an Open Organization this is done by appreciating your employees and letting them know that their efforts have an impact. Taking time to deliberate and communicate decisions, welcoming conflict and discussion and leveraging the influencers in your company are also important for building a participative community. An Open Organization also needs leaders who act as catalysts for their employees’ energy guiding it in the right direction.


Tripl3Leader recommends this book because it explains in a well accessible way why you should and how you can develop your company into an Open Organization. It contains many examples from Whitehurst’s career that help leaders understand the benefits of opening up a company and loosening aged hierarchical structures.

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