The Future of Management

by Gary Hamel (with Bill Breen)

  

In his preface to his book Gary Hamel poses a serious question to his reader. That question is "Who is managing your company?

That would seem to be a fairly straightforward question but Hamel's answer is that your company is largely being managed by dead people. What Hamel actually says is:

"to a large extent, your company is being managed right now by a coterie of long departed theorists and practitioners who invented the rules and conventions of "modern" management back in the early years of the 20th century".

It is Hamel's premise that the management of companies has not changed much in any fundamental way since management theory was invented by individuals such as Taylor, Weber and Drucker. On the other hand, the world and the expectations of its citizens have changed dramatically during the last 80 years and so he sees a grinding tension between these two realities. Hamel produces plenty of evidence of significant innovation and change in technology and product but very little in the management of people which he defines as anything that (p20):

It is Hamel’s premise that the management of companies has not changed much in any fundamental way since management theory was invented by individuals such as Taylor, Weber and Drucker. On the other hand, the world and the expectations of its citizens have changed dramatically during the last 80 years and so he sees a grinding tension between these two realities. Hamel produces plenty of evidence of significant innovation and change in technology and product but very little in the management of people which he defines as anything that (p20):

“Substantially alters the way in which the work of management is carried out, or significantly modifies customary organisational forms, and by doing so advances organisational goals”

Now readers may well now be thinking that there has been significant changes to the way management works but Hamel argues while there has been significant operational and product innovation, and more recently strategic innovation, the changes in management have been largely incremental or evolutionary rather than revolutionary (p32-36).

Hamel says that the purpose of writing the book is to explore the basic reasons why his premise is true and then to assist the reader in re-thinking their own organisations. He does a good job of fulfilling the first purpose. He then goes on to describe some companies where he believes that there has been some significant change such as:

  • Whirlpool and its innovation program.
  • Wholefoods and its genuine empowerment of retail floor staff to make decisions on products and selling strategies and to be rewarded in part of their success or failure.
  • W. L. Gore, the company that makes products such as Gore-Tex, the outdoor clothing material that is now ubiquitous. Gore has an interesting model where you only achieve leadership by having it bestowed on your by your team, not by the hierarchy.

Part Three of the book is called “Imagining the Future of Management” (p125 onwards). This includes the view that significant changes to management will only come from those outside of the management ranks and that outside perspectives are vital. This is a core principle of the sort of work we do and therefore it resonated with me. Initially I was disappointed with the third section because at the end I had not really come out with any big ideas or revelations.

However on reflection that may have been the authors intention. He states very early on that he is not going to give answers, only understanding and tools. In the end we need to move away from the need for the answer from some “guru” and delve more deeply into the principles and underlying causes of the problems we face and then do the work required to innovate. Basically my initial reaction was one of laziness.

I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who wishes to tackle the issue of innovating at a management level, especially those that are continually chafing at the status quo. Those that do should be prepared to put in the effort in order to get maximum value.