Beyond the fringe

I took a leap of faith last week. I responded to a call from people I didn’t know to go and discuss the future of work. About 30 strangers (I knew absolutely no one) gathered above a bar in Wellington, all from different professions, disciplines and industries.*

First we watched the talk given by Gary Hamel on Reinventing Management for the 21st Century, then we split into two groups to discuss the implications of his presentation and what we felt about it. The discussion was wide-ranging, interesting and came to no sort of consensus. At the end of the session, each participant was asked to talk about what they had taken out of it and there were 30 very different perspectives.

Two things about Hamel’s talk jumped out at me personally.

1. We are managing people with out of date theories and methods
Hamel makes the point that most management practice we know and love was in place before 1920, developed by individuals who were at their peak in the middle of the 19th century. Think about it. In most organizations we are still asking people to lead and manage in a way that has not changed for decades. Sure, we change structures, we make radical  changes to performance management (“five box ratings don’t work so let’s have four so managers can’t sit in the middle”) or induction (“let’s make it online rather than a course and call it onboarding”) but it’s still fundamentally the same process under a different guise.

18 months ago I wanted to introduce a leadership programme to my then company. I didn’t know why or exactly what I wanted, I just knew I didn’t want leadership/management 101 and wanted to find something that made people think and act differently. Something that was grounded in self awareness rather than theory. I got halfway to what I wanted, but in hindsight going all the way may have been too big a leap for most given what I now understand.

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2. Innovation in managements starts on the fringe not in the mainstream

Such is the pace of change with technology, companies are having to be more innovative and creative just to compete. But our big established organizations are not where the new and fresh thinking happens in New Zealand or anywhere else for that matter. Think about where you are seeing innovation in business, in HR, in technology, in sport, entertainment and other aspects of life. It is people on the outer reaches, who have made a conscious decision to be different or find a different meaning and who make interesting and new stuff happen, who experiment and throw the rule book out the window, who can adapt as quickly as change itself.

I am lucky to have recently joined a company that wants to do things differently. We have adopted the principles of holacracy and thrown away the management structures, we are having serious discussions about hacking performance management and whether we even still do it, we’ve moved into a new work space that facilitates lots of different work needs and collaboration. We maximize the use of technology, work virtually paperless and are all totally mobile – we can work anywhere. You won’t find a filing cabinet, an IT stack or an unnecessary overhead. In short, we want to be the model of the sort of future workplace we are helping our clients to create.

Of course there will be those that say it isn’t scalable and can’t be done in bigger organizations. And that, of course, is the crux of why management models never change and innovation happens only on the fringes. We surely need to move beyond that for our future workplaces?

*Thanks to the Virtual Group for organising the discussion.

2 thoughts on “Beyond the fringe

    • They are Wellington based predominantly I think. There were few if any HR people there other than myself and a H&S expert from the ports!

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