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The future of management - Rule breakers

A strategy don on management innovation.

R. Sridharan | Print Edition: Nov 18, 2007

By Garry Hamel
with Bill Green
Harvard Business
School Press
Pp: Rs 272
Price: $26.95 (Rs 1,078)

You’d Probably Need To Be A Hamel To venture out to write a book that promises to envision the future of management. The title is so ambitious that one has to wonder whether the aforesaid goal can be achieved in a matter of 272 pages. But as with most books of this genre, the title is a clever editor’s work and neither does Hamel, best known till recently for his Leading the Revolution and Competing for the Future books, tell you what the future of management will be. In fact, he’s honest and modest enough to admit that one man alone can’t envision the future of management.

Rather, The Future of Management is about management innovation—about why managers need to be unhappy with the way they run their corporations today. There’s a simple reason, Hamel says, for that.

The business environment over the recent decades has changed much faster than the management principles that are meant to prevail over it have. Modern day corporations continue to use management principles, tools and techniques that were developed in the first few decades of the 20th century. Therefore, to be able to create more value than one’s competitors, managers need to constantly improve the systems with which they run their businesses.

Making a case for management innovation, Hamel, who runs his own consulting firm and also teaches at the London Business School, says that it has “unmatched power to create dramatic and enduring shifts in competitive advantage”. But what is management innovation? How is it different from, say, continuous improvement techniques or Six Sigma that managers have employed for years now? According to Hamel, it is anything that “substantially alters the way in which the work of management is carried out, or significantly modifies customary organisational forms, and, by doing so, advances organisational goal”.

By examining breakthroughs at trailblazing companies such as GE and Toyota, Hamel comes to the conclusion that management innovation yields competitive advantage when it meets one of the three conditions: “the innovation is based on a novel management principle that challenges some long-standing orthodoxy; the innovation is systemic, encompassing a range of processes and methods; and/or the innovation is part of a programme of rapid fire invention where progress compounds over time”.

Is there a formula for management innovation? Yes, says Hamel. Commit to a bold goal, deconstruct your orthodoxies, embrace powerful new principles, and learn from the positive deviants, he offers. No doubt, there are companies that have done so over the decades—especially, the two companies mentioned earlier and others like P&G and DuPont. But there are hundreds of others that prefer to remain timid and insular, and shun novelty. Hamel’s invitation to innovate management is, then, to those companies. He’s not trying to impose his vision for the future of management on eager managers, he’s merely trying to help them build their own.

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