Reinventing Management in the 21st Century


Last year a group of renowned scholars and business leaders got together to discuss the future of management. Organized by Gary Hamel of the Harvard Business School, the two day event was designed to think the fundamental principles, processes and practices of management that will drive success in the future. The group identified shared beliefs and after much contentious deliberation also “moonshots of management.”

The shared beliefs included the notion that management is one of humankind’s most important social technologies, a recognition that current management models are seriously out of date and third that management must be reorganized to become more adaptable, innovative and inspiring places to work. Of the 25 moonshots of management, a few stood out for me which I’m discussing here. You can find the complete list on Gary Hamel’s blog.

1) To ensure that management’s work serves a higher purpose both in theory and in practice.
It must be oriented towards the achievement of significant and noble goals. This makes obvious sense as management is always a means and never an end unto itself. However, a critical question is whether managers are incentivized to genuinely think in terms of significant and noble goals and measure themselves against these higher purposes. Would you say that of AIG for example? Does the stock market reward companies that do? I’m not so sure.

2) Fully embed the ideas of community and citizenship into management systems
. This is defined as the need for processes and practices that reflect the interdependence of all stakeholder groups. I would argue that by defining it that way, the embedding is not going far enough. The management systems need to be an amebic translation of the communities from which they rise and in turn serve. Thanks to communication technologies those stakeholder groups aren’t static and nor are their perceptions of the organizations. The community is a lot closer to the organization than ever before.

3) De-structure and disaggregate the organization. This one is explained as the need to become more adaptable and innovative by disaggregating larger entities into smaller, more malleable units. I respectfully disagree with this notion, With the advent of advanced web based communication technologies, the social media revolution and the flow of ideas between organizations and into them, the size of the organization matters less. It is more important to allow for the natural flow of information, the organic creation, evolution and dissolution of social networks and for emergent, situational mechanisms to support this malleability. It is not a question of big versus small.

4) Create a democracy of information
is another interesting one and is explained as developing holographic information systems that equip every employee to act in the interest of the entire organization. This is important and I would argue necessary to simply hold onto the most talented employees. However, I would argue that the point is not to develop a new information system rather than to provide access to the information or the “company APIs” so that employees can create their own information systems, leverage third party ones as they choose and then act in the best interest of the entire organization. A little more letting go is needed here.

5) Depoliticize decision-making which is defined as allowing decision making processes to be free of positional biases and done in a manner that taps into the collective wisdom of the entire organization. Here’s another one that I’d say is a touch naive. You cannot depolitize decision-making as long as you have the company as an organizing unit with corporate hierarchies in place. To try to depolitize is unrealistic. It is better to start by encouraging employees to declare their politics and recognize how their own decision making is influenced by their positional biases. Tapping into the collective wisdom is important but it too can only be successful when the biases are revealed.

So how doe these five points relate to technology and workplace productivity? Because a lot of these issues are contested, negotiated and enacted within the digital environments of large organizations. Whether the decision making is taking place in a collaborative workspace, information is being shared via a wiki, organizational units are being formed or ideas are being harnessed on an intranet, these all happen digitally through the electronic culture of an organization. These thoughts are also posted at Going Social Now.

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