Kill or be killed by bureaucracy?

The gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down to HR people this week in the form of a speech given by Gary Hamel, widely acknowledged as ‘the world’s most influential business thinker’.

In a keynote presentation to the CIPD’s annual conference yesterday, he urged HR professionals to challenge old beliefs about management and leadership and completely rethink long accepted principles about how work should be organised.

Management, he argued, is a ‘busted flush’ and it needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up. “Bureaucracy must die,” he said, “because if you don’t kill it, it will kill your organisation.”

Continuing his bid to rouse the troops, Hamel suggested that HR has more responsibility for improving competitiveness and productivity than any other profession. HR people, he said, need to step out of their comfort zone and become as experimental as their colleagues in the marketing or R&D department.

Few would argue that Hamel has a point. The way we work has changed beyond recognition in recent years, thanks to economic pressures, the march of technology and emerging social trends.

Employment relationships are also very different to what has gone before. We don’t necessarily ‘manage’ the people who work for us anymore. They may be outsourced to another organisation, for example, or deployed on a company-wide project that pulls together employees from across the business.

Employees are also increasingly collaborating with (and sometimes answering to) people from outside the business, perhaps working on a major initiative that brings together people from a number of (sometimes competitive) businesses.

This growing trend towards a more collaborative, ‘networked’ way of working, calls for a completely new approach to the way people are managed and work is organised. Much of the HR profession is, however, still stuck in what Hamel describes as ‘Management 1.0’ – an approach that was designed to create stability, precision and control.

What we need now, he suggests, is ‘management 2.0’ – an approach that harnesses the power of communities, creates natural hierarchies and encourages employees to innovate.

Some HR people are already embracing this approach. Technology companies, such as Google, for example, have long been known for their collaborative, networked approach to pushing the market forward and getting the job done. A report just released by the CIPD, Innovative Forms of Organising, also describes how Marks & Spencer has drawn together a wide ranging group of staff and suppliers to create a highly successful ‘One Team’.

For many HR people, adapting to this new world will mean they have to move away from regarding themselves as the ‘guardians and gatekeepers’ and start thinking of themselves as the ‘joiners and enablers’ in the business. It also means thinking completely differently about what innovation really means and what their role is in encouraging it to happen.

As the CIPD’s Dr John McGurk pointed out at the conference, innovation isn’t always about invention and product development. Much of it is about reorganising and rethinking systems and procedures so that innovation is allowed to flourish.

Perhaps a small first step would be for HR people to embrace some of the internal social networking tools that are now available to them. Cezanne OnDemand’s HR software, for example, now has a social HR portal, which allows people to share knowledge and make connections across departmental boundaries.

It’s a great way for HR people to begin to encourage the collaboration and breaking down of boundaries that organisations need if they are to thrive in the new ‘networked’ world.

What do you think? Is Gary Hamel right or is it all a step too far for HR? Let us know your views.

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  1. I absolutely agree. The way we have worked is rapidly becoming less relevant. HR must change their thinking and attitudes to open the way for innovation. HR people must adopt a different way because the world has to change to survive, and that includes changing the cultures of work places. .

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