Short-term decision-making dominates modern executive decision-making.

It’s a common and frequent criticism. But as the success of Agile application development methodologies in IT has demonstrated, short-term decision-making, in and of itself, isn’t always a problem.

Assuming long-term outcomes, on the other hand … now that’s something that can cause immeasurable grief.

Take, for example, the popular pastime of reorganizing for success.

Before we get started, though, let’s clear out some common confusions, namely, the difference between reorganizations and restructurings, and between both of these and the increasingly popular notion of redefining an organization’s operating model.

Properly used (KJRSpeak for “the way I use these terms”), reorganizations are the legendary RMS Titanic deck chair rearrangements. Reorganizations keep existing workgroups and their responsibilities intact but change the organizational hierarchy they fit into.

The best that can be said for reorganizations is that they can remove or reduce the size of barriers to collaboration among workgroups. What’s usually left unsaid is that for every barrier a reorganization removes, it introduces other barriers that weren’t there before: Reorganizations fix what’s broken by breaking what’s fixed.

On top of which come the hidden costs of everyone keeping their heads down until they figure out the new collection of hidden rules that come with new management to replace the hidden rules imposed by the old management regime.

Even worse: Reorganizations can distress or outright kill the pursuit of important business opportunities, because a new organizational hierarchy often means the business sponsor for a given initiative, who cared deeply and profoundly about its success, has new responsibilities for which the initiative is utterly irrelevant.

Likewise, the newly logical sponsor for the initiative in question is likely to have very different ideas about what’s worth investing in and what isn’t.

Restructurings are more profound than reorganizations. At a minimum, in addition to changing the organizational hierarchy and the position of workgroups in it, they also reassign some responsibilities among the existing workgroups.

Restructurings can also eliminate some workgroups while introducing others, and in general try to change how work gets done, with the new workgroups and hierarchy designed to facilitate the process changes that are the point of the exercise.

But along the way to achieving the hoped for improvements to organizational effectiveness come all the short-term losses associated with reorganizations, along with the additional short-term losses that come from changing how work gets done: Everyone involved has to unlearn what they knew in order to learn how they’re supposed to do things now.

Operating model changes are even more thoroughgoing. They recognize that process changes take more than process and organizational designs. They include the entire internal business architecture — people, processes, technology, structure, and culture.

That’s a good thing, because all of these need to be consistent with each other for a new way of getting things done to work.

It’s a bad thing because the more that has to change, the more likely it is that, beyond the cumulative effectiveness losses that accompany restructurings, operating model changes include two major additional concerns: (1) we didn’t think of everything the new operating model has to address; and (2) one or more managers or employee groups involved in the change might get some of it wrong.

Understand, some situations do call for reorganizations, restructurings, or new operating models.

But … (you knew “but” was about to happen, didn’t you?)

In The Cognitive Enterprise, Scott Lee and I introduced the “Stay-the-same / change” ratio — a metric that compares how long an organization takes to make a change to the length of time the change will remain relevant, and the organization can accumulate its benefits.

The ratio matters whenever the time needed to achieve a change is incompressible, while the time available for harvesting their results, is shrinking. Reorganizations, restructurings, and new operating models fall into this category.

Now metrics have their limits, and that includes any and all attempts to quantify the overall costs and the business benefits to be had from any organizational change.

That doesn’t exempt managers from thinking in these terms. In the absence of quantification the management team planning the change should discuss these questions:

  • How disruptive will the change be to our current level of effectiveness?
  • How long will the organization need to recover from the change?
  • Will our long-term gain in overall effectiveness be an order or magnitude or more, or an increment?

And then there’s the most important question: Given our history, how long do we expect the change to last before we reorganize again?

We humans are giving up control over our lives to non-human entities that don’t have our best interests at heart. No, that isn’t strong enough. We’re inviting it.

This isn’t some bizarre conspiracy theory. It isn’t some sensational but unlikely rise-of-the-machines here-comes-Skynet fear mongering.

It’s a conclusion that’s inescapable if you’re even minimally aware of current events. Consider:

Factoid #1: Not only humans are persons

Starting with Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad and continuing recently with Citizens United v FEC, corporations now have the legal right to influence our elections, on the theory that corporations are persons too, or, if not persons entirely, than imbued with significant levels of personhood.

I’m not going to argue with SCOTUS. But I do have a question: Shouldn’t reciprocity reign? If corporations are people, why can’t all people be corporations? In addition to a lower tax rate, we’d get more deductions, too. After all, when a corporation buys a car it can depreciate it on its tax returns. Human persons can’t. Why not? Because we aren’t allowed to be corporations.

Factoid #2: Algorithms

In case it’s escaped your notice, the stock market has been what’s euphemistically described as “volatile” recently. Those who write about such things are calling it a correction, as they think the market was overvalued, not that many of them said so before the volatility began. But some are also suggesting that algorithmic trading has had a lot to do with, if not the market’s decline in value, then very likely the wild swings we’ve seen during the decline.

Algorithmic trading is something done by non-human entities. Automata. And the decisions made by these automata have a significant influence on our economy and financial wellbeing.

Factoid #3: The rise of the ‘bots

Recent research reveals that more than 25 million Tweeters are actually ‘bots — 9 % or more, which in the last election accounted for an estimated one out of every five political tweets or more.

Are these automata influencing things? After all, just retweeting something … or Liking it if we’re talking about Facebook … isn’t an act of persuasion, merely an act of repetition. It makes someone’s voice louder, not more convincing. Except that it does, in two respects.

First, ‘bots don’t announce “Hey, this is just one ‘bots’ opinion!” in their retweets. They pose as humans, and they adopt a demeanor that says they’re the same sort of people as their intended audience. That people like themselves think in a certain way is, to many people, quite a strong influencer. ‘Bots might not broadcast debate-team-worthy rhetoric, but they do broadcast the message “Here’s what members-in-good-standing of our tribe believe.”

When 25 million of them broadcast that message, many of those who want to be Members of Tribe in good standing will find themselves thinking the same way without spending much time to ponder, let alone to independently research the topic, whatever it is.

Worse, they’re likely to become even more tribal through the same dynamic.

Even those who aren’t tribalists are likely to be influenced by Twitter ‘bots, too, because when to all appearances 25 million people appear to have adopted an opinion … more when you add tweets by actual humans to the numbers … it legitimizes a view that reasonable human beings might otherwise consider utterly preposterous.

So here’s what I’m thinking: If everyone who lives in a democracy is concerned about covert Russian influence over our elections … and that certainly isn’t an unreasonable concern to have … then shouldn’t we be even more concerned that increasingly, non-humans are taking control of our economy, politics, and lives?

I suggest some civic-minded lawyer bring a fundamental question to SCOTUS, namely, what are the boundaries of the rights of non-human persons? Start with the First Amendment and whether it applies only to human persons, or whether all entities, human and non-human alike, should enjoy its protections.

The existing carve-out for the press should certainly be maintained, although what constitutes “the press” might need a bit of clarification.

Beyond that, though, it should be neither difficult nor controversial to insist that only we human-being-style persons have the unrestricted right to express ourselves.

Sure, if aliens from another planet or human-like androids become our friends and neighbors we might need to revisit all this, just as the United Federation of Planets did when Commander Data’s humanity was called into legal question.

But we aren’t at that crossroads just yet. Right now we find ourselves faced with just one last question: Is this supposed to be satire, or should you take it seriously?

I only wish I knew.