Management Innovation: It’s the new HR Technology…

WarningSo I’m starting my first blog from the #HRTechEurope conference by shooting straight to the end – or should I say the last session – Management 2.0: Business Strategy for the 21st Organisation by Gary Hamel.

I must admit, I’m a bit of a fanboy and I think he is right on the money when it comes to the state of Management and Leadership today. He’s an entertaining speaker too, although at times, with a good PA system, you need to hang on to your seat as he can literally kind of blow you way with his enthusiasm.

Having Gary, a management science guru, as the closing keynote may seem odd at an HR Tech conference but his message is very relevant:

“The kind of innovation that makes the biggest difference to business isn’t in technology or process. It’s in management.”

Hallelujah! This is the key message that all the vendors, especially, should have taken home from this conference. Watching the major players – Oracle, SAP and Workday – ‘eerm’ and ‘aah’ their way through justifying why you should buy their software on the Thursday afternoon panel – Talking Heads – chaired by Jason Averbook – was entertaining if not a little frustrating.

Much talk of “changing lives” and whilst I know they all have some great customer stories you’d be forgiven for thinking that software can cure cancer. It can’t. Well, ERP solutions, cloud or otherwise can’t! Thank God for Josh Bersin who kept bringing the group back on point:

“If you don’t have a business challenge to solve, don’t change the software.”

Or as Dave Buglass – Head of Organisational Capability and Development at Tesco Bank observed in a well timed tweet:

Dave Buglass Tweet

So the answer to sustained business improvement is Management Innovation, not technology, according to Gary. The problem is, management as we know it, says Gary, is broken. And I think he is right.

But there’s a problem, especially for people like me. You see, 10 years ago, Gary did an event for me at which he kicked off with the following memorable statement:

“Things are moving so fast, you will leave this room more stupid than when you came in.”

That was 10 years ago. Back then, if someone mentioned Social Media you thought they meant a communist newspaper. Watching Gary 10 years on I found myself feeling excited and energised on the one hand, yet frustrated on the other. Excited because his message is relevant and clear. He expertly points out the huge holes in the way we run organisations today and the damage we are doing by letting traditional management and leadership methods prevail.

One of the many examples he gave referred to the four biggest technology players in the market – Intel, Dell, Microsoft and HP – who ALL missed mobile. Arguably they had the best consultants advising them, the biggest R&D budgets and pole position in the ridiculous War For Talent. Yet it made no difference whatsoever – they never saw it coming.

And here’s why, for me, it’s also very frustrating to listen to Gary – because nothing changes. We are not learning. The evidence for change is compelling yet we do nothing, when there is actually a real alternative. After 20 years of thinking this way, hearing people like Gary champion the cause but seeing nothing change, I really really want to punch someone.

But I’m not a violent man 😉 Instead I will continue to champion the alternative, to push for ways of running organisations that would scare the crap out of the existing C-Suite, but which are necessary to break the current calcification of organisational change. Here is Gary’s starter for ten:

  • Abolishing all job titles
  • Crowdsourcing corporate strategy amongst employees
  • Have employees elect/hire their leaders
  • Total, open and transparent remuneration data – all levels in the organisation
  • Eliminating budgets and letting anyone raise a purchase order
  • Setting salaries through peer review, (or better IMO, letting employees fix their own remuneration)
  • Managing with a minimum of 1:400 span of control

Any sceptics out there that think this list is some form of impossible, Koolaid inspired dream, I urge you to do some homework. There are a good number of organisations out there already befitting commercially from adopting these, and similar, practices.

If the message to vendors was to put the business problem before the sale, the message to the practitioners in the audience needs to be to stand up, grow some balls and challenge the existing status quo. If, according to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, then ladies and gentlemen I give you Corporate Dementia.

I will leave you with a call to arms that Gary adapted from a quote by Pope Francis:

“Past CEOs have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their staffers. Bureaucracy is the leprosy of our organisation. The top down model ignores the world around it and I will do everything to change it.”

I intend to. Do you?


  1. HR Tech is still driven by HR– what they need to succeed in driving their people strategies and manage their benefit offerings and events. Support them not disrupt them.. they have too much to do already. We’ll be at HR Tech in Paris and would love to meet you. Your blog is great (we’ve just started ours).


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