From my studies of history, I've found one, exactly one, and only one organizational technology that's been consistently used by organizations that rise from nothing to greatness with quick speed.
And that is -
Promotion By Merit.
It's such an easy concept to get your mind around - the people who do the best job, get promoted and get greater responsibility - but it's actually tremendously hard to implement in reality.
For instance, the following are all things that have no direct bearing on merit in most cases -
...and yet, these are how the majority of positions are filled, and how the majority of promotions go throughout the world.
See, the damn thing about this whole thing is that it's very hard to know who is good at doing their job. In fact, especially when it comes to high-tension and even crisis situations, the majority of people put in those positions won't actually face the highest tension and crisis so often.
So... you default to credentials, certifications, appearances. There's indeed something to those things, which is why they're used. But they're not pure merit.
So, to implement this, what do you need?
You need leadership who are very good at evaluating people quickly, their real character, and who are willing to risk looking stupid when someone young and uncredentialed who they took a chance on -- fails. And this will happen, of course. "Nobody gets fired for buying IBM," but it's very easy to question someone who fails on a more daring move or with a more unconventional promotion.
You need to transcend politics and personal like/dislike, which is incredibly difficult. Practically speaking, there has to be some massively important unifying cause or external threat to do this. I'm open to the idea that someone, someday, will be able to build a politics-free organization without a unifying cause or external threat, but if it's ever happened, it's extremely rare. Human nature is politics, and politics is the decay and eventual destruction of organizations.
You need to be highly attractive to the best people, which puts you in an awful chicken-and-egg position of needing to find the people and resources that make your organization attractive to the best people and abundant resources.
You need to understand that you'll lose people - sometimes very solid people - who feel like they deserve promotion on the basis of suffering and "putting their hours in"... or alternatively, you need to avoid clock-punching, suffering-prone people in the first place.
Merit is a hard standard to reach. It's not easy to assess, people naturally try to subvert it for their own gain, getting high-merit people is hard enough on its own, and you come into conflict with many people who think conservatively and traditionally that those who put in long hours and days should rule, regardless of their ability.
And yet! There it is, emblazoned on the banners of all the greatest successes of history. Merit, merit, merit. And then, victory.
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