Protean Corporation

In his book The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise of the Protean Corporation and What It Means for You, Michael S. Malone defines a new phenomenon in the corporate world which he calls the Protean Corporation (Protean means the ability to change into many different forms or to do many different things). The Protean Corporation is a new form of organization that is structured to handle the stresses and strains we see emerging in our marketplace today. Stresses ranging from the retiring baby boomers being replaced by Gen Xer’s, Gen Y’s and millennials to the rising Asian workforce, continuous Internet connectivity, the pace of technological change, dramatic increases in new consumers, the emerging nations and the rise in entrepreneurialism. These stresses and strains are unleashing an unprecedented rate of change into the marketplace, a rate of change that has never before been experienced and one that the organizations today struggle to handle successfully.

According to Malone, the Protean Corporation “must find a way to continuously and rapidly change almost everyone of their attributes – products, services, finances, physical plant, markets, customers, and both tactical and strategic goals – yet at the same time retain a core of values, customs, legends, and philosophy that will be little affected by the continuous and explosive changes taking place just beyond its edges.”

How can the Protean Corporation do this? By structuring itself into three distinct groups;

1. Core – the core staff are permanent staff responsible to retain the core values, customs, legends, and philosophies of the corporation as it navigates through the continuous and explosive change. It is up to this group to uphold the corporation’s culture. This includes the vision, mission and values of the organization (see past blog posts for more information). The Core staff must model these critical elements for the Inner Ring, the Cloud, investors, customers and all other stakeholders.

2. Inner Ring – these are the permanent employees responsible for the operations of the business. These staff need to understand the workings of the business inside and out and they must be extraordinary leaders as they will be leading the day to day activities of the “Cloud” which makes up 90% of the Protean Corporation.

3. Cloud – In terms of numbers, the Cloud makes up 90% of the Protean Corporation. These are temporary staff whose employment may last anywhere from hours to days to years depending on their role and the requirements of the Protean Corporation at the time. They will be the staff that actually executes most of the day to day work under the guidance and direction of the Inner Ring. The Core employees will oversee the Inner Ring and the Cloud and ensure that the corporation’s core culture is maintained.

How does this apply to your business?

1) Establish a strong culture with a clearly defined, communicated and uncompromising vision, mission and values

2) Structure your company to be flexible and adaptable, strategically selecting core staff, inner ring staff and cloud staff based on strengths, weaknesses and business functions

3) Structure your work processes in a way that allows ultimate flexibility while still protecting intellectual property and enhancing profit margins while allowing for growth in the marketplace

4) Train your leaders continuously

5) Innovate constantly

6) Communicate tirelessly to all stakeholders

7) Do not compromise your vision, mission and values

This is definitely not a simple process but it is critical for long term success and longevity in today’s world of constant and explosive change. Build your protean corporation so that you can “find a way to continuously and rapidly change almost everyone of their attributes…..yet at the same time retain a core of values, customs, legends, and philosophy that will be little affected by the continuous and explosive changes taking place just beyond its edges!”

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