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One of my favorite magazines is Monocle. Each year they publish the ‘Monocle’s most livable cities index‘. Cities are rated on elements like safety/crime, international connectivity, the climate, the quality of architecture, tolerance and public transportation. The Top 5 in 2012: Zurich, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Vienna and Munich. No overlap with my Top 5 (NY, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Bangkok, London), but of course my criteria as a traveler are different than as an inhabitant.
A trending topic in my direct environment is the ‘makability’ of organizations, and more specifically our own organization. I love being in big cities, and to a certain extend it helps me to compare organizations with big cities. What is the attraction of  (some?) big cities? It’s the variety. The history. The constant change and adaptation to new circumstances. The architecture, the beauty of some parks, the mix of old and modern.
Big cities also have big problems. Too many people. How to get clean water into the city. How to adapt an old infrastructure. Pollution. Can cities change? Who can influence the change? Change in cities is constant. Realizing big changes is a slow process. Local and federal governments plays a role, organizations with business in the city play a role, architects and urban planners have ideas,  and the inhabitants of the city play a large role. There is no lack of ideas for improvement and innovation in big cities. Implementation is generally more difficult. In Amsterdam the North-South metro line is a good example. The idea is simple: life in the city will be a lot easier if we connect north and south with a new metro line. After long discussions the decision to build the line was taken in 1997. 17 years later work is still in progress and it will take a while before the line is opened.
If we compare the organization with a big city, you see wish lists as follows:

Wouldn’t it be nice if:

  • Traffic would flow easily through the city, without obstacles
  • All young people in the tram  would offer their seat to the elderly
  • All shops would be open 24/7
  • All bicyclists would stop when the traffic light is red
  • Everybody would be honest, so that we do not need police
  • All foreigners are received with open arms by the locals
  • There would be no favela’s and everybody would have clean drinking water and electricity
  • Young families would stay in town
  • All schools have the same quality
  • And so on….

A nice but totally unrealistic list. The city council knows it can only influence so much. Choices have to be made and fortunately the big cities are like living organisms: their inherent capability to adapt is very big.
A metaphor is luckily only a metaphor, but it helps me to see the required changes in our organization in a different perspective. The next question is: what is the list of criteria for “The Most Livable Organizations Index’?

Wikipedia: list of urban areas by population

Dutch translation of this blog post here.

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2 thoughts on “The Future of HR, part 21: The Organization as a Big City

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