Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On Gary Hamel's "The Future of Management" part 2 - Why do we need a new management model?

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:
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Note: you can find excerpts of the book here.


Jon Foulkes said...

So in effect the challenge to management is to let go of controlling on a daily basis, telling employees what to do and how to do it and work on creating an environment that frees and supports employees to do the right things - and trust that the results will follow?

For may managers this is the total opposite of how they see and value themselves. But its an essential move.

Any thoughts on how to drive this change? How to stop slippage back to the "bad old ways" at the first sign of trouble?

John Caddell said...

Thanks for the comment, Jon.

This is the question, isn't it? Inertia is the biggest enemy of this type of change. I frankly believe that it will happen by new companies forming around these ideals, building them into the culture, and eventually supplanting the existing leaders.

Existing companies--especially high-profile, publicly traded ones--will be nearly impossible to remake in this way. Their only chance is to allow radical change to form at the bottom, then support the hell out of it. But the supporters will be going directly against their bonus objectives if they do so.

It's interesting that the companies Hamel profiles (Google, Whole Foods, WL Gore and a Brazilian company called Semco) had the principles instilled by the founders or owners, not a board or even a CEO.