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Leadership’s Wake Up Call

By April 22, 2019June 4th, 2019Leadership
wake up leaders

Relinquishing and redistributing authority, power and control: What organisations need now

In the second of our series on feedback from Workhuman 2019, we focus on iconoclast, Gary Hamel, whose keynote address brought the house down for its revolutionary call to “bust bureaucracy” and humanize our workplaces.

Gary Hamel kowtows to no one and nothing; his courage stems from an academic’s conviction in rational argument, sound research and solid data. Small wonder The Wall Street Journal ranks him as the world’s most influential business thinker. Fortune magazine describes him as “the world’s leading expert on business strategy”, and at Harvard Business Review,, he is the most reprinted author in the publication’s 97-year history.

Hamel is no stranger to disruption and disquiet; in his own words, “Great strategies come from challenging the status quo.” His long-awaited book, Humanocracy (due for release in early 2020) is expected to be his most radical yet.

And yet, when you follow Hamel’s thinking, and match his assertions against the data he provides, it’s the logic of his arguments that prove most convincing. So, when Hamel asserts that “our organisations were designed to be inhuman”, and that what he calls, “bureausclerosis” – or the rise of the “bureaucratic class” – is to blame for the inhumanity, it’s the research that swings the argument from assertion to fact.

Hamel cites that “since 1983, the size of the bureaucratic class – the number of managers and administrators – has more than doubled.”

In an article on Hamel’s blog, co-written with colleague Michele Zanini, they ask:

“How is it OK that a scant 13% of employees around the world are emotionally engaged in their work?

How is it OK that 70% of jobs in the US require little or no originality—this according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics?

How is it OK that only 12% of employees in Europe say they’re always consulted before objectives are set for their work?

How is it OK that the average first-level employee in a large organization is buried under eight or more layers of management?

How it OK that 50% of employees say they’ve had to change jobs to escape an incompetent or autocratic boss?

How is it OK that in a global survey, 79% of respondents from large companies said new ideas get greeted with skepticism or hostility?

How is it OK that in the same survey, 76% of respondents said political behaviors highly influence who gets ahead?”

It makes for dispiriting reading doesn’t it?

So, what’s the cure? Hamel spells it out:

“… it’s impossible to dismantle bureaucracy without redistributing authority. We have to face the fact that a post-bureaucratic organization is also a post-managerial organization…”

Consider these five steps to redistribute authority and remodel your management practice:

1. Promote intrapreneuralism

Traditional, hierarchical organisations are restrictive: employees are taught to follow managers’ instructions; to stay within the parameters of established systems and processes, and to suppress personal initiative and innovation.

By contrast, in a post-managerial organisation, employees embrace the spirit of entrepreneurialism. What’s more, it is their functions – not their managers – that enable them to be creative and to experiment.

Look to redefine your employees’ roles and responsibilities within new job functions; these functions should be born of your business strategy and align with your organisational purpose.

2. Create micro business hubs

Restructure ownership across the business by breaking it into small, cross-functional units; what Hamel calls, “micro enterprises”. Made up of no more than 15 to 20 employees, each unit is responsible for its own strategic decision-making, covering everything from project selection and scope of work to recruitment and incentive-based pay.

3. Set specific OKRs

There’s a reason why Google uses OKRs (Objectives & Key Results); they help align employees with business goals by providing clear direction. To ensure your OKRs are outcome-based, use the S.M.A.R.T goal criteria (Specific; Measurable; Aligned; Relevant; and Timely) when setting your objectives. Each hub within your enterprise should be tracking its progress against its unique OKRs. The review of progress for projects and tasks against the OKRs should emphasize personal accountability and self-discipline.

4. Guard against excessive multiteaming

An increasingly common characteristic of Agile organisations is the phenomenon of ‘multiteaming’ – when one or more individuals are assigned to work on a series of projects, simultaneously. Beyond the benefits of knowledge sharing, innovation and productivity that arise from cross-functional work, multiteaming has a dark side: individual burn-out and work-related stress.

Guard against overstretching individual team members; ensure team leaders know the scope and extent of the other projects their team members are working on. Also, connect with individual team members regularly; ask them what they need, then follow through and meet their needs. It may mean introducing more flexi-time, or supplementing the work flow through external contractors, or developing a mentorship program to help build up your human capital. Be sure to check in with team members regularly, and to provide for their needs.

5. Crowdsource innovation

A defining feature of top-heavy, bureaucratic organisations is their insularity. A quick, effective way to break the insidious cycle of insular thinking (and behaviour), is to open your organisation to innovation from all stakeholders. Start using your company’s social media sites as platforms for idea generation, and even debate. Companies that engage with diverse stakeholders can expect more inclusion, idea-sharing and innovation. The reason is simple: branding is a shared human experience.

With eminent thinkers, such as Gary Hamel leading the charge for hyper-flat organisations free of the dehumanizing effects of bureaucracy and oppressive management, the future of work looks brighter than ever. Ready to make it happen?

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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