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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thoughts on Gary Hamel (long post)

I’ve recently been reading excerpts from Gary Hamel’s recent book on the future of Management Hamel is one of the leading guru’s on management and strategy his book Competing for the Future was a staple on a few MBA courses – mine included.

His star had waned a little recently as he lauded the Enron model to the skies. He is always a writer who is thought provoking and he argues his thesis well and he does so in this book.

His basic premise is that the current managerial practices were designed for companies that provided standardised, mass produced outputs and that they need a complete re jig rather than trying to reverse engineer them into today’s companies in an era of globalisation and increasing technological and generational change. I think that there is a role for both systems as not everything is bad and that there is an equilibrium position which balances both.

The new business environment needs to place a premium on collaboration and talent management and the old hierarchical system can be an impediment to innovation and creative strategy. I think that organisations will be challenged to deliver change for which we have imperfect knowledge. They will need to become nimble and mobilise the energy and imagination of every employee who works there.

I think that innovation can come from any employee and that individuals or even teams should look for opportunities to experiment with new ways of working and that progressive firms might want to provide not only time but some IT support and seed corn money to help employees develop the products that make a difference to the way that your organisation innovates.

I think also that using my knowledge management beliefs that social capital and utilising teams of practice might act as useful seedbeds to innovation either of the incremental but also of kaikaku – the radical leap forward..

I’m presuming that Hamel still however believes that organisations need to look outside their boundaries to see the future of their business and to ask themselves as do P & G

I also consider that employees need some basic framework to help them become a business innovator and that appraisals in the future might see a manager appraised as to how they encouraged intrapreneurship in their organisation but also how teams/individuals are appraised in this area also.

Hamel considers that managers in the future will have to ask themselves this question. ‘How do you build an organisation that merits the gifts of creativity, passion and initiative?’ These are things that employees bring to work and cannot be commanded to come forth by managerial diktat.

This follows the work of Tom Davenport who in ‘Thinking for a Living’ highlights that the knowledge worker of the future won’t put up with an overtly hierarchical management model as they don’t need it. This sounds very similar to the thoughts that came out around the concept of free agency and the work of Bill Jensen on Work 2.0 that disappeared as a concept when the internet boom turned to bust and P45’s and the need for a job punctured that particular bubble.

Perhaps as the credit crunch leads to recession this idea might die again as people look to hold on to their jobs – however the demographic issues that I’ve talked about in the past might mean that the knowledge worker will break free of the classic approach of hierarchical managers to oversee that work is done.

A problem with Hamel’s book is that the large proportion of his examples come from internet firms and as these do not have the legacy barnacles that a large organisation has there may be some scepticism that to do the plumbing needed in a large organisation to move his future forward would be more difficult..

For some organisations it might well take a crisis to provoke the change that is needed. However I do agree that this is unlikely to be overnight phenomena and that the need to be creative against the need to be organised might be one of the key managerial areas over the next 10 to 15 years.

It is an ambitious book but one that managers should read and consider in their Xmas stockings

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