Business author and HR guru Gary Hamel explains revolutionary management and shows how your company can evolve to embrace it.
Gary Hamel, HR expert, London School of Economics faculty member and prolific author, explains that business leaders are working amid a modern management revolution, and then he tells you how to join it. In this book written with Bill Breen, Hamel says management stands on the brink of a major paradigm shift as globalization, deregulation and digitization push old industrial models to the breaking point. To achieve their full potential, he explains, companies must be willing to abandon obsolete processes.
Compared with the…changes we’ve witnessed over the past half century in technology, lifestyles and geopolitics, the practice of management seems to have evolved at a snail’s paceGary Hamel
Hamel advises renewing your firm’s strategic focus organization-wide, involving everyone in innovation and shaping an environment in which people give their best. And, he cautions, just tinkering with details won’t solve your problems. Instead, Hamel argues, if you can improve the way you manage, you can create unlimited potential profit, because managing covers so many aspects of work. He urges you to be bold and to see yourself as part of an evolving revolution.
Hamel works with the idea of the paradigm shift developed by Thomas Kuhn in his influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Hamel applies Kuhn’s concept to management, arguing persuasively for the need to change managerial theories and practices. This ambitious treatise is a follow-up to Hamel’s pivotal Leading the Revolution, and he further builds on its approach to changing management tactics.
Let information flow in all directions, Hamel recommends, with feedback throughout many levels and everyone looking for innovation. He tells you to relinquish the industrial-age definition of efficiency because you don’t want your employees to spend all their time completing assigned tasks, since that leaves them no time for thinking.
Hamel points to the example of Whole Foods Markets, which successfully bet that people would pay more for healthful food grown in an environmentally sound way and presented aesthetically. He recounts how new hires join teams at Whole Foods, and after a month, the team votes on whether to keep them.
If you’ve spent any time inside large organizations, you know that expecting them to be strategically nimble, restlessly innovative or highly engaging places to work – or anything else than merely efficient – is like expecting a dog to do the tango.Gary Hamel
Whole Foods’ teams earn performance bonuses, so peers monitor one another’s productivity. All key financial information is available to everyone and – in what the author identifies as a critical restraint – no executive earns more than 19 times the average employee salary (note, however, that Hamel wrote this long before Amazon acquired Whole Foods). A policy of keeping executive salaries in check stands in contrast to most Fortune 500 companies where, he reports, the average top executive earns 400 times the average employee’s salary. Hamel makes the point that this rare absence of executive greed helps reinforce employee loyalty and retention.
Hamel also discovered revolutionary organizational principles in action at W. L. Gore & Associates, makers of Gore-Tex. Founder Bill Gore used the conceptual metaphor of a “lattice” to explain an ideal management structure in which all parts interrelate. In this structure, Hamel explains, employees pitch their ideas in an open market and convince people to work on them. He finds that this strategy nourishes an autonomous, motivated, flexible and innovative workforce.
Hamel delves into Google’s extended interviews of potential employees, a process which can last for weeks. Google employees, he notes, work in “small, self-managed teams,” which move quickly to implement ideas because people don’t have to wait for answers from above; they need only to convince a few peers. The author creatively analyzes Google’s model as paralleling the Internet: self-governing, chaotic, richly productive and connected.
Hamel’s theme is that you can revitalize established management patterns by developing a process for cutting through obsolete dogma that impedes innovation. To accomplish this, he says, recognize and apply breakthrough management ideas, for example, drawing from the companies he cites.
Yesterday’s heresies often become tomorrow’s dogmas, and when they do, innovation stalls and the growth curve flattens out. Gary Hamel
Rather than using planning to move ahead, Hamel argues for evolutionary advances through experiments, mutations, variations and mistakes. This means, trying new ideas, expecting failures and seeking variations within your company. Ask for volunteers, he suggests, and run experimental trials in parallel with existing structures to see which system works better.
Hamel is adamant that innovation demands diversity and democracy. Let people complain and disagree, he recommends, then spread leadership and accountability to empower and inspire employees on every level. Rather than depending on extrinsic rewards such as money or job titles, the author teaches, learn from spirituality and religion, and offer a unified vision that lets people belong to something meaningful.
Hamel advises leaders to seek the systemic roots of problems that slow innovation. As creative energies start to flow, he encourages you to find ways to multiply them. The author stresses this crucial point: to create revolutionary results, act in an evolutionary fashion. Take small steps toward a new paradigm.
Hamel offers fascinating examples of how new strategies can work well, even when they run counter to tradition and intuition. Where he directs you for inspiration is particularly intriguing. How many authors suggest modeling management on Google, evolutionary biology and religion (to name but three examples)?
Management innovation often redistributes power. So don’t expect everyone to be enthusiastic. Gary Hamel
While the book’s diverse examples are clear, wide-ranging and useful, in the perspective of time, they may not always be as radical as a paradigm shift might mandate. If some of Hamel’s discussion seems like yesterday’s news or codification of today’s ongoing paradigm, consider how innovative and fresh it was when he published it in 2007. While many other experts have said hierarchical, top-down management may stifle innovation and must change, few saw this as soon or explored it as thoroughly as Hamel.
His intelligence, his writing skills, and his ability to offer both specific and wide-ranging solutions continue to serve anyone who wants to encourage innovation or to understand the changing face of management. He develops these ideas further in his later books, which mark important progress in the field. However, you can benefit from the insights and suggestions in this book even if it’s your first Hamel read – just don’t make it your last.
Gary Hamel also wrote Competing for the Future (co-authored by K.C. Prahalad, 1996); Alliance Advantage: The Art of Creating Value Through Partnering (co-authored by Yves L. Doz, 1998); Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life (2002); What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation (2012); and Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them (co-authored by Michele Zanini, 2020). Bill Breen co-authored Brick By Brick with David Robertson.