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Gary Hamel is the world’s biggest business brain – and he’s got some radical solutions to our most entrenched problems
Corporate greed, inertia, sprawling bureaucracy... with a career spanning 35 years and 10 bestselling books, Gary Hamel is well-versed in tackling the issues holding organisations back. On the eve of his appearance as a keynote speaker at the CIPD’s annual conference, People Management asked the man ranked world’s most influential business thinker by the Wall Street Journal about how business can change direction, and what role HR should play...
Your new book, What Matters Now, is all about driving innovation. But aren’t most people’s jobs primarily about being part of a process?Management was invented to turn human beings into semi-programmable robots. At the start of the industrial revolution, you needed people who could literally serve the machines. We took free-spirited, strong-willed people and turned them into forelock-tugging, biddable resources. Today, there are still plenty of occasions when we need people to do the same thing one hundred times in a row, very precisely, but we also need those same people lying awake at night thinking about the value of products or how to reinvent a production line.The same person who’s four or five rungs down at a big global retailer, just a cog in a machine, may be writing a blog at the weekend, redesigning their garden or creating beautiful photography. The companies that win will be the ones who get a lot more than mere obedience or diligence from those people.
How will organisations get to that point?The work of managing – controlling, planning, supervising and doling out rewards and sanctions – is going to increasingly be syndicated out to the edges of an organisation. We’re going to have less of a caste system where the goal is to reach a particular step on a ladder. Advancement is going to come from taking on more and more responsibility, without the formal designation of being a manager.The most toxic feature of our organisations is power trickling down from the top. I know several large, complex organisations that right now are running without any formal management hierarchy at all.
How has the social contract between employer and employee been changed by recent events, including the banking crisis?I don’t think it exists any more. There aren’t many young people who expect they’ll have a career of 10 years with a certain organisation, let alone a lifetime. Young people are looking to take on new challenges, with organisations that will give them the scope to use their gifts. This next generation is the first in history whose primary social reference point is not a hierarchy. Today’s primary social reality is the web, where there is no trickle-down power. If I post something on YouTube, nobody asks if I went to film school. When these people – Generation Y, digital natives, whatever you call them – go to work, they expect that every idea will compete on an equal footing, and that however young or new you are, your idea will be considered on its merits just as much as one that comes from the chief executive.If you don’t meet those expectations, you won’t get the best and brightest. Twenty years ago, business school graduates were lining up to work for the likes of Nestlé or Procter & Gamble. Today, they mostly want to go into a start-up, social enterprise or young web company, where the reality matches the social reality of the web.
What does all this mean for today’s leaders?A lot of leaders have behaved like mercenaries. You need to see yourself as a steward who is responsible for the economic future of your employees. A lot of leaders weren’t focused on that, and our reward systems were part of the problem. My idea for getting rid of executive pay? Give executives’ work away. There’s no justification for giving somebody £10 million a year when most of their work is being done by the rest of the organisation.
What role is there for HR professionals to play in building a new type of organisation?Part of HR’s role is building an organisation that’s fit for the future, but I don’t think that aspect of it gets anywhere near enough attention. HR people need to set up the collaboration platform that will reinvent management, the platform that gives every employee in the organisation the right to hack the process. How do we do a performance review? How do we raise a budget request? Every employee ought to have the right to change those things.