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Insights from America: WorkHuman 2019

By March 22, 2019July 2nd, 2019Culture

Insights from America: WorkHuman 2019

Insights from America: WorkHuman 2019

Hey y’all, it’s WorkHuman 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee and, of course, Humanist is here.

It’s no coincidence that human capital management software giant, WorkHuman chose to host its fifth, annual HR conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the US, and WorkHuman is one of the country’s fastest-growing conferences. It’s plain to see why: It is the epicenter of the movement to make workplaces more fully human.

This year’s line-up of WorkHuman speakers address this issue from a range of fascinating perspectives. In this article, we give a quick sum-up of insights from keynote speaker, Gary Hamel:

Gary Hamel, iconoclastic business strategist

Hamel’s call is a typically revolutionary one: it’s time to topple management, or at least, the way it is currently structured and practiced. Also, to rebuild our organisations for a new age of post-bureaucratic, human-centred work.

He cites disquieting facts to support his stance; using stats gathered from a research study conducted in collaboration with Harvard Business Review:

  • Since 1983, the size of what Hamel calls ‘the bureaucratic class’ (managers and administrators) in the US workforce has more than doubled.
  • The average frontline employee is buried beneath eight or more layers of management.

The cost of this management overload, Hamel says, shows up in an alarming range of organisational states: apathy, insularity, rigidity, timidity, conformity, bloat, and politicking. It doesn’t take a genius to see that all of these states inhibit innovation. But more disturbingly, they prevent human beings from being able to bring their full selves to work. For organisational development, prolonged exposure to these states spells doom.

So, what is Hamel’s advice to steer organisations away from “management metastasis” and through the difficult process of disruption, towards Management 2.0?

At WorkHuman, Hamel shared these five steps:

Count the cost

“We don’t pay attention to things we don’t measure,” said Hamel. So, start measuring the cost of bureaucracy in your organisation – identify the people who have zero autonomy; and who are not able to make decisions for themselves using simple common sense. Then, try and quantify the cost of this decision-making vacuum.

Learn from the vanguard

For most employees, a bureaucratic work environment is the norm. “It’s hard to imagine anything other than bureaucracy,” shared Hamel. He cited companies, including Haier, Valve and Nucor, that operate within a post-bureaucratic paradigm. Among other things, he said, these companies apply crowdsourcing strategies. Also, instead of operating as monoliths, they form multitudes of micro-enterprises, literally stripping out the old, formal management hierarchy to be lean and agile.

Change ideology, not technique

In Management 2.0, business practices that focus on standardisation, formalisation and predictability are defunct. Hamel suggests five, new principles to focus on:

  1. Autonomy – “Most people want to be owners, not employees.”
  2. Experimentation – “Don’t create a pilot as a pretense for real experimentation.”
  3. Meritocracy – “Positional power doesn’t correlate with creativity.”
  4. Markets – “Large organisations fail because they over invest in the past at the expense of the future.”
  5. Community – “Relationship capital is the key to doing great work.”

Build a coalition of the willing

“Deeply entrenched bureaucracy has a power structure behind it,” said Hamel. He warned that few at the top end of the organisational hierarchy are willing to give up their power, which is why building a coalition of the willing is so important – it’s unstoppable once it starts. He went on to advise that the redistribution of power involves turning on the capabilities of people on the frontline.

Experiment relentlessly

Hamel challenged organisational leaders to build truly innovative cultures. The only way to do that, he said, is to share power and to be willing to try something radically new.

Hamel ended his seminal address by saying that we can learn from history. He said that deeply rooted, socially oppressive structures, such as aristocracy, slavery and patriarchy have been overturned by the same thing: the power of a sound, moral argument. For Hamel, dismantling corporate bureaucracy depends on our collective desire to eradicate it, based on our shared understanding of its potential to harm humans. Judging by the standing ovation Hamel received from the WorkHuman audience, it seems corporate freedom is not far off.

Felicity Hinton

Felicity Hinton

Felicity Hinton is the founder and chief strategist at Humanist, a culture-change agency that helps transform people for business success. Previously, she worked in human performance solution design, and advertising. She is a certified change manager (UCT), has a Bachelor’s degree in English (Wits), and has won several awards for her business writing, including a Silver Quill.

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