on April 20, 2012
Gary Hamels' latest book, What Matters Now, is pretty much what it says on the dustcover: `an impassioned plea' for the development of both an entirely new way of running organisations and for a new corporate ideology, based on `freedom and self-determination'. Along the way, Hamel calls for a better calibre of stewardship, which puts the long-term interests of corporations and their communities before personal gain, and rewards the organisations' members by contribution rather than power. It's a radical agenda. This is a book that anyone interested in organisational behaviour should (and almost certainly will) read, and the quibbles that I have with it are minor. But I might as well tell you further down the page what those quibbles are.
Following on from the themes that he aired in The Future of Management, Hamel argues again that we are clinging too long to a model of management that was designed for the manufacturing revolution started by people like Henry Ford; a revolution that depended on standardisation, efficiency and control. The problem, argues Hamel, is that the efficiency that these great and hugely successful machines require rubs against the grain of what humans do best. Reminding us of the remarkable fact that in 1890 in America, nine out of ten white males worked for themselves, Hamel points out that the inevitable result of industrialisation was that `unruly and independent-minded farmers, artisans and day-labourers had to be transformed into rule-following, forelock-tugging employees.' And we are still at it today, `working hard to strap rancorous and free-thinking human beings into the straightjacket of corporate obedience, conformity and discipline.'
Hamel sells his point cleverly: it's not that corporations need to give employees a greater degree of freedom because that will be nicer for the employees, it's that rigid, command and control model bureaucracies will inevitably stagnate and die. What matters now, says Hamel, illustrating his point with the incontestable success story of Apple Inc, is innovation and adaptability. The cost of forcing people into the straightjacket of classic hierarchical management structures is the cost of lost ideas, commitment and passion - the very things that organisations most need in order to adapt and survive. Hamel quotes a sad fact revealed by a 2007-08 survey of 90,000 workers in 18 countries which demonstrated that only 21% of these workers were truly engaged with their work, while 38% were mostly or entirely disengaged and the remainder were sort of alright really. Hamel offers his own version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - a hierarchy of human capabilities at work. From the most important to the least important, Hamel lists Passion, Creativity, Initiative, Expertise, Diligence and, last of all, Obedience. If you work for a large organisation, you may agree with Hamel that the most important three capabilities in this list are the ones that are demanded of you least on the average working day.
The solution, Hamel argues, is to build organisations on entirely different lines, and to put individuals ahead of institutions. His recipe for this, at its most fundamental, is: decentralise; emphasize community not hierarchy; make decision-making transparent; make leaders accountable to the led; align rewards with contribution not position; carry out peer reviews not top-down reviews; encourage self-determination. In a clever and interesting analogy, Hamel urges corporations to embrace the values of the internet, where all ideas compete on an equal footing, resources are attracted not allocated, and tasks are chosen not assigned.
My minor quibble with the book is its determinedly chirpy tone, which runs the risk of trivialising the content. If we are serious students of management and of organisational behaviour then we don't need to be chivvied along with cheery chirpiness, like a bunch of students with low attention spans. My least favourite example of this writing style: `Here, in a pistachio-sized shell, is what we learned.' `Here is what we learned' is fine by me.
My major quibble with the book is that Hamel, as a heavyweight management consultant, should be uniquely well-placed to give us a long list of case studies about companies who are trying to put his principles into practice. We don't really get that. When Hamel talks about Apple, he admits that he has not done any consultancy work for them, so his conclusions as to what they might be doing right are only those of outside observer, albeit a very-well informed observer. Apple are `redefining the basis for competition', `locking up customers with velvet handcuffs' and `extending core competencies into new markets.' Well, yes they are, but Hamel is reduced to introducing this by saying, `Ask an industry analyst or MBA student to deconstruct the company's gravity-defying performance and they would probably point out . . . ` He's not wrong, but one would like some deeper insight based on Hamel's hands-on experience of working with remarkable companies.
My heart also sank when, in the middle of the book, just as the reader is becoming desperate for a real example of how (and if) these radical and exciting ideas really can work in practice, Hamel gives us the example of an Anglican vicar in North London who devolves his church's `management structure' into a number of Mission Shaped Communities, run by his parishioners. It may be my personal problem that I care neither whether nor how any church increases its flock, but my main concern is that most captains of existing industries who are wondering how on earth to begin to turn their own supertankers around would be even less interested or impressed.
Later, however, we get good accounts of both W.L. Gore and Associates, manufacturers of the polymer fabric Gore-Tex, and of the world's largest tomato processor, California's The Morning Star Company: successful organisations built on thoroughly democratic, bottom-up principles. At Gore, colleagues choose which projects they want to work on and make a commitment to what they will deliver. At Morning Star, everyone is self-managing, committing to a personal mission statement of what they will contribute, which is guided by the broad mission statement of the independent business unit in which they work. Business units negotiate with other associates and other business units for what they will deliver and for what they need delivered in their turn. Everyone has the power to spend money to buy what they need to get the job done - but first they have to sell the idea to their peers. There is no management hierarchy to climb as the only means of advancement; career progression and higher rewards come though contributing more: mastering new skills and finding new ways to serve colleagues. In both companies, rewards are determined mainly by peer-based assessments of contribution.
We've already seen the W. L. Gore business model in Hamel's The Future of Management, so Morning Star represents the most significant genuinely new model offered for our consideration. And both of these companies were set up from scratch with their new, revolutionary business models in place from day one which, while still impressive, still feels a lot easier than taking an existing hierarchical organisation and transforming it into a new, self-determining model. We are finally given some insights into such a process via the experiences of the Indian IT service company, HCL Technologies, who have set out to `invert the pyramid' of their management structure and to make management accountable to the people at the front line. It would have been good to see some more examples of such transformations, even if they are only `work in progress.'
Throughout the book, Hamel offers guidelines as to the ways in which the management of organisations run on traditional lines can begin to empower and impassion their workforce, but I do feel that the Chief Executive of a major organisation might feel that he or she has been given an inspirational glimpse of an exciting future, rather than the map that will guide them to the final destination. Hamel's almost final word is a rap on my knuckles for this unworthy thought: `You don't need a detailed change programme to get started. Bus drivers follow maps; pioneers follow polestars.' Ouch. So much for this particular bus driver. Over to you, pioneers - follow that polestar!
Hamel is not wrong in saying that our future depends on us getting this right. I have no doubt whatsoever that the corporate structures that served us well in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will not deliver prosperity for us in the twenty-first, and that if we do not develop nimble and adaptable organisations that allow individuals to flourish and contribute, then we will fall behind in the race. I also firmly believe that Hamel is right in saying that freedom and self-determination must be the guiding principles for this process. These are the guiding principles of our democracies; it's a bit disturbing that they are not the guiding principles of most of our organisations.
Gary Hamel's new book What Matters Now is a different type of business, leadership and management book. Where most offer single dimensional prescriptive recipes for success, Hamel has provided a thoughtful, deep and readily accessible look at the current state of business, management, capitalism and society.
What Matters Now treats the reader as an intelligent, concerned and reflective professional rather than a mindless consumer of business advice. The result is a book that is as refreshing as it is provocative.
Highly recommended, not as a path to success, but as a guide for personal reflection on the state of business, leadership and what can be possible if only we decide to make it so.
Hamel covers a wide range of subjects in 25 tightly written chapters from morality of business leaders and their failure in the financial crisis to new views on innovation, management, participation and the impact of technology on the way we work. The book is divided into four sections:
Section 1: Values Matter Now addressing the failure of values and its consequences coming out of the global financial crisis.
Section 2: Innovation Matters Now covering the need for greater innovation, focus on design and recognizing the personal challenges and rewards for innovation. Chapter 2.4 on turning innovation duffers into pros offers the most realistic view on why innovation is hard that I have read in a long time.
Section 3: Adaptability Matters Now provides a view of the nature of change, the forces driving it and the rewards associated with creating more adaptable and engaging organizations.
Section 4: Passion Matters Now contains a sharp and well-constructed analysis of modern accepted forms of management and what is possible if we put a focus back on people and their passions. Chapter 4.3 building communities of passion, which describes how St. Andrew's church created mission-shaped-communities offers an example we can all see personally and think about how to apply professionally.
Section 5: Ideology Matters Now concentrates on the intellectual underpinnings and believes of modern management and challenges leaders to be different. Hamel provides examples of how to work without hierarchies, where employees are treated as adults and people make their own decisions. The result is creativity and success rather than the chaos others would predict.
Hamel illustrates his points with an energetic, engaging and surprisingly personal writing style that not only tells a story but also makes points that make you think. For example, I had no idea that Hamel was a latecomer to the game of golf or how the feeling of a well made shot is similar to the feeling associated with creating a innovation. Many of these stories have been featured on his Wall Street Journal Blog, but taken together each takes on new context and purpose. They constitute a way of thinking about the future that is best contemplated at book length.
It takes one kind of person to `tell' you what you should do in a business book. It takes another, one with deeper insight, concern and interest to tell the truth and trust that the reader can make their own decisions. Hamel writes for that reader, one who will think about what they have read and seek to apply the principles rather than blindly follow a process.
Hamel treats the reader as an adult. He writes to influence the way you think and in a way that is more lively, less academic and provocative than business books that are edited or reviewed by corporate committees. The book gives you a sense of spending the day with Hamel and having a deep and engaging conversation of what it will take to create the type of world we all would be proud to live in and pass onto our children.
The books chapters are clear, concise and focused around a single idea that is well supported by examples and advice provided in terms of things to think about rather than tasks to perform.
The book is filled with rules of thumb; lists and case examples that help the reader distill the message into ideas and actions that they can readily apply in their own situations. This keeps the book actionable and accessible and avoids being a theoretical manifesto.
The book covers topics that are not normally thought of in a business book like culture, ideology, and behavior and applies them to non-traditional situations. For example, Hamel's examination and discussion of the management ethos of modern religions was eye opening and illustrative.
Readers looking for a prescriptive polemic statement of success will find this book frustrating. There is no 12-step process, seven habits, or three things that you need to blindly follow. You need to be prepared to think about the points made in this book.
People entrenched in the power structure will find this book annoying in the sense that it constantly chips away at the notion that the top knows all, controls all and that hierarchy is the natural order of things. Hamel's chipping away at the fundamentals underneath current control obsessed management is significantly more revolutionary than it might appear.
Some may find Hamel's discussion of Values, Innovation, Adaptability, Passion and Ideology too high level, simplistic or cursory. After all, each of these topics is at least a book in its own right, so how could anyone say something important about them. Hamel resolves that dilemma by going to core and central issues in each of these areas and addressing them with pointed and powerful arguments and ideas that make you think.
Overall, highly recommended for people who are willing to consider different arguments, ideas and recommendations. Reading What Matters Now generates contemplation and thought rather than mindless consumption of the latest answer to all questions. The challenges we all face from the crisis of values to the creation of mechanistic organizations require deep thought to address successfully. That is what makes reading What Matters Now well worth your time, attention and passion.
on January 2, 2015
Overview: What Matters Now provides a blueprint for how businesses can succeed in the 21st century by focusing on having the right values, being product-focused, creating cultures where innovation can thrive, becoming adaptable, and being passionate and ideological. These are critically important concepts, but the lack of facts/research/data, the manner of presentation, and the (not particularly detailed) insights behind how to achieve each of those broader suggestions has led me to NOT recommend this book. I purchased the Kindle and the Audiobook. His speech was clear. In the case that you’re A.D.D. – the book, at least, is not boring.
To start, I want to note that Hamel is not just a crazy populist off the street – he was a visiting professor at HBS/London Business School, writes for the WSJ, started Strategios (a mediocre management consulting firm) and has been highly regarded by Forbes. I am, personally, a Theory-Y proponent (albeit not as radical as him). Between Hamel’s background and the strong support for this book on Amazon, I was expecting a great book. I was very disappointed, and I am really shocked that this author was a professor at Harvard. Overall, Hamel does provide useful high-level advice and a decent framework, but his advice is clouded in dogmatic ideological opinions and not fleshed out well. He spends most of the book on his ideological high-horse chastising current management structures and very little time arguing with data/research or showing detailed implementations of his ideas. Many of his statements that were made to be factual could be challenged or were just wrong. (e.g., basically saying, “Anyone with a brain could see the financial meltdown was a sure-thing” – So then why weren’t you shorting the housing market with as much money and as much leverage as possible? It was a highly complex system and certainly some people did really think there were issues, but the number of people was very small and the few who did notice issues saw it as “potentially risky” if they were able to understand the system. You may disagree with me, but you are wrong if you think there is only one side to the argument)
Examples where Hamel overreached: 1.Basically said that "cost cutters" don't enhance innovation at all. 2. Mentioned Huawei multiple times, but couldn't pronounce the name even close to correctly, and seems to know almost nothing about the company despite using them as a case in point on at least two occasions. There were a lot more. By the way, out of curiosity, I checked the Glassdoor employee reviews for the 2 revolutionary companies Hamel mentioned (W.L. Gore and Associates, and The Morning Star Company), and their average was ~3.5* rating out of 5, and they’re not exactly enormously profitable companies.
A lot of good non-fiction books nowadays are massive group efforts that involve several man-years of research. This book, relatively, seemed like something that the author put together in his free time by dictating stream of consciousness. It was like a motivational speech with a few unsubstantiated “facts.” I like academics and I think the management style should become much more Theory Y focused, so I don’t want to accuse Hamel of being an ivory tower professor who would get lost in the trenches – but I’m shocked that this guy is able to get large businesses to pay him for consulting services. I just think he’d have trouble figuring out how to implement so many of his ideas (he’s been writing about basically only this topic for decades and he still has almost no research and no depth). He doesn’t seem to understand the depth of issues. He also probably overestimates the relative strategic ability of front-line employees vs. top consultants and SVPs (sorry for being elitist) and the problems of pure democracy. Not to mention that some companies really do need to keep certain info private.
My background: Young junior Director at a Fortune-20 firm with post-advanced-degree experience at a top 3 management consulting firm.
on May 10, 2013
"What Matters Now" is the latest (at the time of this review) book from Management Guru Gary Hamel, who authored the excellent The Future of Management. Of course, I wondered whether "What Matters Now" will be as good as his previous Future of Management. Well, in my opinion, it isn't. That doesn't make this a bad book though, it is still excellent and would recommend people (management) to read it.
What matters now consist of 5 chapters about concepts of organizations and management that Gary Hamel feel are under-appreciated and need to get more focus. They are things that matters now. The things that matter now are 1) Values, 2) Innovation, 3) Adaptability, 4) Passion, and 5) Ideology. Each of these have their own chapter in which Gary Hamel rants about the current practices and makes some recommendations about each of these things that matter.
The first chapter covers values and with this Hamel mainly focuses on ethics and contribution to the society. A key point he makes is that capitalism and contribution to society are not contradictions but go hand in hand. The second chapter talks about innovation and how companies that won't continuously innovate will not be able to survive. In innovation he also includes design and spends some time deconstructing Apple. The third chapter cover adaptability, the ability to respond to changes, where he talks about the rapidly changing environment and how companies are structures in a way to actually prevent those changes.
The last two chapters: Passion and Ideology are closer to his previous work on the future of management. Passion talks about how we need to unleash the workforce and stop controlling them but to find and create passion for what they are doing. The last chapter, Ideology, talks about the assumptions behind management and how we'll need to adopt new principles and ideology of management. This also talks about freeing people, creating self-organization, flattening the hierarchy and similar things he also mentions in his previous work on the future of management. In this chapter he gives a lot of case studies: WL Gore, Morningstar, and HCLT. Especially the Morningstar chapter is nice where he expands a bit more on his earlier HBR article "First fire all the managers".
The book, like other books from Gary Hamel, is very well written. Hamel has a strong opinion and knows how to express his opinion, though at times it felt like pure ranting. Also, he knows what he is talking about and comes with interesting examples. All of this makes it an easy and entertaining read. I still prefer his earlier "Future of Management" as I felt that was slightly better structured, but this is definitively an excellent read also. Definitively recommended.
on March 5, 2012
I really enjoyed this book...although I don't think it's for everyone. It's a book that enables senior business leaders and strategists (especially) to reflect on 'what matters now'--at least from Gary's point of view. It's certainly not a 'how-to' book and does get a bit philosophical at times. For those unaware, Gary is on a mission to revamp management as we know it, and that is certainly reflected in this book. For some that will be threatening. So be it.
Gary is a deep thinker and, in my view, a great writer. Unlike others, he doesn't write to a fifth grade reading level. He's trying to raise people's sights, not pander to the lowest common denominator. The ideas in this are both broad and big. They're not all original, although a few are. The real importance is not whether the ideas are original, but rather the framework which Gary places each idea within. The three in-depth examples (starting on page 233) of how companies turned the organizational pyramid on its head are incredibly insightful and very thought-provoking.
This book isn't about incremental change, it's about helping people think through big, thorny issues. To me Gary is one part futurist, one part idealist, and one part pragmatist. This book reflects that.
Bill Wiersma, Author--The Big AHA and The Power of Professionalism (2011)
on February 29, 2012
If you are satisfied with the status quo, if you like to control people and worship the command-and-control, hierarchic management model...then this book is not for you!
In "What Matters Most" Gary Hamel provides, what I believe, to be the best argument regarding workplace change, leadership, management innovation and sustainability that I've ever come across in a long time. The book equips us with the tools and current myth-shattering strategies to build organizations that will be fit for the future and fit for human beings! Gary articulates incredible courage (the most important attribute of leadership in my way of thinking and lacking with other authors) in tackling our organizations' most de-humanizing and horrific qualities. For too long our orgs have been positionally led by small-minded, fear-wielding, self-serving, "bought and sold" compliance officers, spirit-diminishing gatekeepers, and "image over substance" control freaks. Today's work needs to get done by people without positional power. We need a new type of manager who is able to build a workplace environment that ellicits the best out of people...capabilities such as initiative, creativity, and passion.
One highlight of the book I found most interesting/useful is Gary's construct regarding the "hierarchy of capabilities." Gary's insights are remarkable!
This book is about serving the greater good, about designing workplaces that are human-friendly and not machine-like, about invigorating, engaging, growing and sustaining the soul of every employee so that employees WANT to do their best rather than HAVE to do a job. The values espoused in this book are needed more than ever.
Thank you, Gary Hamel, for your imaginative genius and writing the most relevant book of the 21st Century!
Other books I would recommend as companion pieces are: "Credibility" by Kouzes and Posner and "Great by Choice" by Collins and Hansen.
on June 25, 2013
Competitive advantages are not as sustainable as they once were. Companies must be flexible and innovative. Competition may come from the periphery, and out of nowhere. We must be less greedy. Apple is a very good company.
In a long stream of consciousness without backing it up by analyses, arguments or facts this is endlessly repeated throughout this book. I stopped reading 2/3 in when Hamel writes that "despite the claims of Dawkins, etc. religion is very good", then adding no arguments.
I agree with most of what Hamel thinks, I just believe that this is obvious to 98% of people in business today. It is worthless to say: be innovative. Everyone agrees. People ask for more details about what that means. Finally this book could really have benefited from Hamel rereading it himself, and cutting out all the repetitive parts.
on April 30, 2012
The fundamental job of management is to create the future, and for well over a century, managers have used a reliable assumption to successfully deliver their key responsibility: The past is a proxy for the future. And as long as this assumption remained true, those who best understood the trends, patterns, and lessons of the past were entrusted with the stewardship of our key institutions. Until recently, this arrangement has worked relatively well.
But what happens when the past is no longer a proxy for the future? What happens when the arc of change suddenly shifts from incremental to exponential? These are questions that Gary Hamel ponders in his latest book, What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation. And if Hamel's answers to these questions are correct, the survival of many corporations and their managers may very well depend upon their letting go of familiar assumptions and embracing the unprecedented realities that now define business in the twenty-first century. Put simply, a nineteenth century management model is unsustainable in a twenty-first century world. And while this premise may appear intuitively obvious, acting on this premise may be the most difficult challenge facing business leaders today. Unfortunately, according to Hamel, most business leaders appear poised to fail.
With the rapid convergence of accelerating change, ubiquitous connectivity, and escalating complexity spawned by the transformational power of the Internet, we have been suddenly thrust into a world where the past is indeed no longer a proxy for the future. And while the future may be very different, it is not necessarily unpredictable; it just needs to be predicted differently. That's because the future no longer begins with a managerial elite charged with orchestrating our institutions; rather, the future today is more likely to start on the fringes in a hyper-connected world far from the control of those who think that they are still in charge. Hamel points out that, while the future may no longer be an extrapolation from the past, it is nevertheless hidden in plain sight. Quoting the author William Gibson, Hamel reminds us "The future has already happened, it's just not evenly distributed."
According to Hamel, companies miss the future not because it's unpredictable or unknowable, but because it's unpalatable and disconcerting. They miss the future because both they and their institutions need to quickly learn that "organizations lose relevance when the rate of internal change lags the pace of external change." This means the most important question for any organization is: "Are we changing as fast as the world around us?" If companies are to thrive in a world where the past is no longer a proxy for the future, they are going to need to change the way they change.
The sudden emergence of accelerating change means that everything now changes exponentially. Unfortunately, business leaders don't have much experience with exponential change. They are much more experienced in the ways of discipline and efficiency shaped by a management ideology where control is the principle preoccupation of most management systems. However, in times of accelerating change, it isn't the most controlled or the most efficient organizations that survive, but those that are the most adaptable and resilient.
Traditional organizations are not designed to be adaptable or to manage at the pace of exponential change; they're designed for discipline, efficiency, and steering incremental change. And when they do make large-scale changes, it's often in the face of a traumatic crisis. As Hamel observes, "Review the history of the average corporation and you'll discover long periods of incremental change punctuated by occasional bouts of frantic, crisis-driven change." When exponential change supplants incremental change as the norm, the capacity to change without trauma becomes essential for the simple reason that the severe stress of never ending crises is unsustainable for most human organizations. That's why Hamel advocates, "Building organizations that are as resilient as they are efficient may be the most fundamental business challenge of our time."
The greatest impediments to building resilient organizations are the control systems that have served as the standard of management excellence. Resilience requires innovation, creativity, exploration and experimentation. To be resilient, managers must have a capacity for iterative learning, which means that they must have a willingness to take risks, to sometimes fail, and to learn from what are hopefully small failures. While embracing explorative failure may be a hard adjustment for control-oriented managers, they may not have a choice because avoidance of small failures in times of great change may turn out to be the fastest pathway to ultimate failure in a world where only the innovative survive.
If companies are to cultivate the innovation that they need to be resilient and adaptive, Hamel argues that they need to make sure that the senior leaders don't dominate the strategy discussion. Instead, the conversation about company strategy needs to be shaped by individuals who are emotionally invested in the future rather than experienced in the past. This means expanding the diversity of those who shape strategy. Hamel suggests, "One simple way of increasing diversity is to overweight every team and decision-making body with individuals who are younger than the company average, have worked in other industries, and aren't based in the head office."
Creating the future in a twenty-first century world reshaped by change, connectivity, and complexity requires a paradigm shift in the ways we manage organizations. Managing great change is only possible if we change how we manage. Those business leaders who have the courage to embrace new assumptions and new ways of thinking by building organizations that are designed to adapt rather than to control will be better poised to meet the challenges of an unprecedented exponential world.
Rod Collins, Author of Leadership in a Wiki World
on September 6, 2012
I am fully engaged in this book and though I have not yet finished reading it, I felt compelled to endorse it.
The author challenges the reader to move away from the self-seeking, personal gain mentality, to an arena where, the best companies are driven by concern and innovation, driven by the desire to benefit all parties.
The author exposes the constructs that have put many companies into gridlocks which prevents them from responding to the true needs of customers.
The work is a call to create something new for the era that is now upon us.
There is a need to be better and do better. More than ever people are voting with their feet. Target customers will not buy or use the services of those companies that leave them dissatisfied. On the other hand, companies that provide what the customer needs along with a side dish of 'we care about what you think and feel', are the ones that are obtaining customer loyalty.
These concepts are not just for the marketplace. The author's concepts are applicable to any organization of any size that operates to provide a service.
Given my initial experience, it is unlikely that I will not continue to find good thought provoking challenges in this book as I read it to the end.
on December 21, 2013
I had the chance to hear Gary Hamel this fall in San Francisco on what "What Matters Now" in the health insurance/ health care sector against the backdrop of all the change that's being forced down from Washington. He is timely and insightful with his remarks, advice and examples. Very useful in all business situations, not just health.
Fascinating perspective. Really happy I bought this....and read it! Hope the White House reads it