Organizational Capabilities Fit for the Future - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #132

Organizational Capabilities Fit for the Future

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In the past bureaucratic hierarchies were at the core of most organizational structures. Now, things have changed; from established notions of leadership to operating environments, businesses are going through revolutionary times. In this Idea, a new leadership style for this new environment is put forward – one that combines the best of bureaucratic and ‘post-bureaucratic’ experiences to develop capabilities fit for the future.


The industrial age bought with it bureaucratic principles of work organization. Things we now consider commonplace were considered major innovations, such as employing staff in an official capacity, building hierarchies of authority and task-specialized division of labour. This model served well during that time, but now we are on the midst of an information ‘revolution’; information technologies are transforming organizations on a scale comparable with the radical introduction of bureaucracy as a model of organization.

Not surprisingly, this information age calls for a different type of leadership, better suited to organizations’ characteristically informal networks. According to Judge Business School’s Jonathan Trevor, future organizations will need to be a hybrid of the best of both bureaucratic and post-bureaucratic. In other words, they will need to be simultaneously both formal and informal; specialist and generalist in skill and scope; controlled and delegated; entrepreneurial and collaborative; and, highly integrated but with flexible specialisation built in. Of course, this being no short order, effective leadership will be required more than ever.

Though what qualifies as effective leadership will differ from one organization to another depending on their individual circumstances, Trevor suggests four broad configurations of organizational capabilities required for success in the post-bureaucratic age:

  1. Leading execution: also known as execution capability, this capability resembles the bureaucratic ideal most closely, representing a continuation of the efficiency imperative.
  2. Leading integration: this capability embraces horizontal integration to connect dissimilar skills, knowledge, technologies and resources.
  3. Leading adaptation: this refers to emphasizing adaptation as a core organizational capability, enabling firms excel at manoeuvring quickly to respond to new or variable demand within the market.
  4. Leading innovation: this capability resonates most closely with the post-bureaucratic ideal, allowing leaders draw fully upon diverse knowledge resources across their organization’s internal and external network. As a result, breakthrough innovations are made possible.


According to this Idea, gone are the days of individual ‘heroic’ leaders; the future will see a move away from bureaucratic organizations to the strategic influence of the highly connected, consensual and collectively conscious of many.

For individuals that want to embrace new ways of working in this age, the following principles should be understood:

  • Portfolio working: as the formal organizational structures through which we work will become increasingly diffuse, so will structural identity and purpose which will be defined at an individual level.
  • Personal brand: individual value will be measured in terms of the distinctiveness of skill and knowledge specialization within networks.
  • Collaborative entrepreneurialism: individual contribution will be required for collective community well-being and consciousness.
  • Security through wits alone: with little to no long-term structural job security, project working with fixed horizons will be the norm.

This may sound scary, but in fact these are exciting and positive organizational developments that will ultimately give more individuals than ever before the opportunity to lead and make a real difference within their organizations.



‘Leading the Capability Revolution’, Trevor, Jonathan, European Business Review, Jan–Feb (2013)

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Idea conceived

January 1, 2013

Idea posted

Apr 2013
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