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The Coming Flight Of The Managers


What are we going to do when all the managers get tossed from the coop because Gary Hamel said we don’t need them?

Yesterday in a Harvard Business Review webinar sponsored by Dell, he talked about his research on W.L. Gore, where managers are nonexistent. To Hamel, Gore is the company of the future.

Gore doesn’t need managers, says Hamel. Employees are motivated to perform on their own because at the end of the year a panel of 20 people rates them on how much value they’ve contributed to the company that year.

The underlying assumption is that managers are there to make the workers work. If workers are self-disciplined, then who needs managers?

In fact, Hamel believes, managers actually get in the way. They’re so busy imposing rules that employees can’t navigate the maze they’ve created and do their work efficiently.

Hamel’s justification for eliminating the manager and replacing that person with a self-disciplined worker is impressive. Workers innovate. And companies have to change radically, innovating all the time and at every level, to compete. Because their technology is easy to copy.

Hamel gave the example of Apple going into mobile phones. The technology was out there; they took it; turned the product into an Apple-branded device (simple, pleasing to the eye) – and succeeded.

Though as a non-manager I sympathize with Hamel’s research conclusions – we all want to do what we want and without a lot of bureaucracy – I think he is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Managers are important. The problem is that good managers are lacking. This is partly because some people are jerks, but partly because companies don’t know what they want from the role. Worse, the don’t value the true financial benefit managers offer.

In the age of the self-motivated employee, the role of the manager is indeed no longer to discipline. Rather, they are needed in the same way that smart kids still need parents to be there for them. Parents, and in particular, historically, mothers, provide a safe place for vulnerable young people to handle unpleasant emotions effectively.

Unfortunately, a natural capacity for caring for others is not financially recognized or rewarded in the workplace. Throughout history this ability has been taken for granted as “female,” “instinctive,” “unskilled,” and so on. It’s been exploited because of women’s dependency on men for protection.

It is no wonder that as soon as women got the chance, they fled “Revolutionary Road” in search of equal treatment in the workplace. Of course when they did so, they left a gaping void at home (though a lot of kids were probably also relieved that their resentful mothers would now stop bothering them.)

It’s pretty much the same at work. People who have caring jobs, or who care for others on the job, get absolutely no credit for it. Because it’s hard to find the “ROI” on emotional intelligence.

Of course there is enormous “ROI” in emotional and group intelligence: At a bare minimum, a good manager prevents otherwise sane employees from killing each other. At a maximum they enable teams to perform at peak capacity and protect them from the irrational demands of leadership. During times of extreme and abrupt social change, we need them more than ever!

If we want to adapt management for innovation 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever we’re calling it now, for Heaven’s sake don’t toss out the managers! Instead, refine the job description, educate accordingly, and compensate highly, in accordance with the value they facilitate.

In this country we don’t let minors raise themselves. In the same way, it is stupid to say that employees who are producing lots of code all night are necessarily incredibly productive. I don’t care what kind of genius you are - it is not normal to sleep in your office in a sleeping bag.

Emotions matter. Conflicts arise. If you don’t have anyone to help you out with that, you’re just wringing out your people for the money. As soon as the economy picks up they will pick up too, and leave.

Managers today are actually organizational development specialists. Let’s recruit those and pay them in accordance with the value they deliver.

Vineet Nayar, the author of Employees First, Customers Second, is right that it the frontline employee is your value creator. But at the same time, even a blind person can see that without solid parenting – provided by a female or a male - no human being and no workplace can function effectively.

For more information on Hamel’s work to promote Management 2.0 visit I’ve visited the site; it’s good; this mention is voluntary and not suggested or sponsored.


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