What's wrong with today's style of management, anyway? It's earned trillions of dollars of profits. It's slimmed-down, delayered and re-engineered thousands of companies. It supports hundreds of graduate schools emitting newly-minted MBAs every year (including your author).
It's also led countless companies into turnaround hell.
Hamel discusses this at length in "The Future of Management." He writes:
Nearly all accounts of deep change...are stories of turnarounds.... Sadly, [deep change] is rarely opportunity-led, continuous, and a product of the organization's intrinsic capability to adapt. (p.42)
A turnaround is a transformation tragically delayed. (p.43)
It seems that after two-and-a-half thousand years, we are still unable to follow this simple advice from the Tao te Ching:
Act before there is a problem.
Bring order before there is disorder.
Countless management books recommend creating a crisis environment to push through needed changes. Hamel asks, why is this necessary? Why isn't it possible to create a corporate environment that taps the ability to change that we all have inside us?
Our management model prevents us from doing that. The words "command and control" encapsulate what's so limiting about the way we've organized ourselves. In an organization of any size, commands from the top have a limited effect on what people do every day at the bottom. And the ability to "control" employees only seems possible when it's what you've been taught as a manager to try to do. (The only thing that's controlled at most companies is information, and that's a very very important problem with management today, an issue that Hamel takes up later in his book.)
I coach six- and seven-year-olds at soccer. Practice, unless it's fun and engaging, quickly deteriorates into chaos--spitting competitions, staring at the sky, a pig-pile. I can no more control my kids than I can control the weather. The best approach is to keep the games coming, and from time to time to ask them what they want to do. And mostly just let them play.
But when I managed lots of people, I did try to exert control. That's what I'd been taught, and what was valued in the organizations I worked for. (I enjoyed it, too.) It worked better than with my soccer team--these were professionals, after all. But how much fun was it, for me or them?
What would have happened if I had tried to organize the work to be more fun and engaging? What if I had asked the team what they wanted to do, or how they wanted to meet our objectives?
I think that's what Gary Hamel is trying to say here.
Other posts in this series:
Note: you can find excerpts of the book here.
management leadership organizational development reading list