I just finished the one of the best 2/3rds of a book I've read in quite a while. Gary Hamel, who has previously offered up Competing for the Future, has a new book out about the importance of changing the way we manage called The Future of Management.
I wrote in a previous post that an early cave man would feel completely comfortable in most business meetings, since so little has changed about the way we conduct meetings. In The Future of Management, Hamel takes it a bit further and notes that a CEO from the 1930s resurrected from the dead would be completely comfortable taking over the reins of a large organization today, since there have been so few innovations or changes in the way most firms are managed. Frankly, the hierarchical command and control organization we use as a main model of management was developed by the railroad industry and the Army just after the Civil War, and has not changed much at all.
While our management practices haven't changed, over the last 10 years or so there have been sweeping changes in the competitive environment. Customer demands change constantly and new competitors are able to compete in any market. Yet, with all the change going on, management paradigms and principles remain roughly the same.
Hamel suggests that firms in the future will need to evolve at a rate that's higher than the rate of change in the environment, and that adaptability and flexibility will be the two key watchwords for these firms. I completely agree - it's difficult to solve new problems and provide new solutions using outdated models.
Hamel uses the second half of his book to look at three firms he thinks demonstrate the "new" ways of managing - Whole Foods, Gore and Google. What these firms have in common is a team-based approach to doing business, pushing decision making and autonomy (and accountability) down to the individuals who are responsible for customer service or who are in positions that would normally not make these decisions. All of these firms operate as a conglomerate of very small, very nimble teams with an emphasis on "sideways" communication - team to team, across functional boundaries or stovepipes, rather than vertical communication, top-down. So far, so good.
Where I felt Hamel dropped the ball, and wrote only 2/3rds of a great book, was in the conclusion. He does a great job setting up the challenge and demonstrating why his three representative firms are on the right track, then fails in the last third of the book to synthesize what he's demonstrated into a model that a manager can take and implement. Hamel got right to the edge but I believe failed to deliver the methods, models or principles that a manager could pick up and put into action.
My advice: Read the first two sections for the problem definition and the great points he makes about Google, Whole Foods and Gore, then synthesize the model that he hints at that will help you become more successful - clear strategic guidelines, guidance not direction from the top, building communities based on passion, encouraging horizontal communication, pushing down responsibility and accountability, emphasizing change and adaptability.