What Matters Now

Gary Hamel, recently ranked as the world’s most influential business thinker by The Wall Street Journal, is serious about busting bureaucracy. His newest book What Matters Now, he focuses on what is needed for our organizations to win in today’s economy.

In the below video he talks about the ideology of “control-ism”: we want to control people with standards, protocols, supervision and procedures.

In a world where change is accelerating and innovation is becoming more important, we need more than the obedience that got us here. We need the passion of people and their sense of initiative and creativity. It sounds like companies who have been beating the human-ness out of their workers are going to be crying for the ‘self’-part of their people to get back to work (you know: that part that we leave at home when we go to work).

The VP of Parenting

According to Hamel we need to blend the ideology of control with an ideology of freedom. So the biggest challenge for business today is get the balance right between control and freedom. The good news here is that human beings are very good at managing paradox. Hamel compares it to the balance between love and discipline that parents are constantly experiencing when raising their kids. As a parent you are managing that trade-off to the best of your abilities.

Here is a wonderful quote from his book that states this parenting paradox and contrasts it to how we are managing our organizations today:

… You know you won’t’ get the weighting between love and discipline right every time, but you are deeply committed to it right OVER time. Now imagine there was a Vice President of Parenting who didn’t live in your home and didn’t know your children. Imagine further that this executive received monthly reports from a dozen parents and, in response, occasionally issued blanked edicts: ‘I see we are way over budget on tantrums. Next quarter we’re going to focus on discipline. I want every parent to increase the number of time-outs by 30%’. How helpful would that be?

If we give people the right to make the decisions that influence results, if we hold them accountable for these results and give them the information they need to make wise decisions, we can do away with a lot of those traditional control means and a lot of bureaucracy. In his book we find some examples of companies that have been built around the ideology of self-determination, and they aren’t start-ups. W.L. Gore is one of them; an industry leader that has been around for more than half a century.

Why the Time is Now

The goal of early management pioneers was to turn people into machines. The motto was to show up, do your work and be compliant with the productivity measures and standards. But now we are in a different economy. Today, value creation is driven by higher order human capabilities of initiative, imagination and passion. We need organizations where people are willing to bring these capabilities to work everyday. This is what Seth Godin referred to as Emotional Labor two years ago when he toured the world to give us a wake-up call to individuals. In What Matters Now, Hamel translates Godin’s plea into a wake-up call for organizations

He makes a painful observation when he states that our organizations are less human than we are. As human beings we are way more adaptable than our organizations. So the challenge today is the opposite of the challenge of the Industrial Revolution. It is to make our organizations as adaptable, innovative and inspiring as the people who are already in those organizations. If we want this to happen, we need to dismantle, undo, unlearn, lighten the bureaucratic controls that are still the legacy of Industrial Age thinking.

What I like most about this book and Hamel’s energetic performance on stage is that he clearly puts a disclaimer on the ‘busting bureaucracy’ challenge. It is not the one or the other. It’s not control or freedom. We need to strike a balance if we are to compete for the future. For the first time in the history of management, winning will not be about fixing a control that went unnoticed (deficiency focus) but about discovering 99% of the human potential that has been left un-attention-ed (focus on gifts). This is what matters now.