Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

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Embracing New Principles

By Gary Hamel on May 28, 2013

The management practices in most companies are still based on a clutch of timeworn principles that trace their lineage back to the dawn of the industrial revolution.  Yet what is true in other fields of human endeavor is also true for management:  you can’t solve new problems with old principles.

The management practices in most companies are still based on a clutch of timeworn principles that trace their lineage back to the dawn of the industrial revolution.  Yet what is true in other fields of human endeavor is also true for management:  you can’t solve new problems with old principles.  To build free societies based on self-rule, the 18th-century advocates of democracy had to renounce the time-honored principles of hereditary sovereignty.  To untangle the history of life, Darwin had to abandon creationist traditions and conjure up a new theory based on the principle of natural selection.  I believe we are at a similar juncture in the history of management.  Put bluntly, there is no way to build organizations that are adaptable at their core atop the scaffolding of 20th century management precepts.   To jump on a new management S-curve, we’re going to need new principles.

Modern management—its practices and processes, routines and rituals—is based on a small nucleus of core principles:  standardi­zation, specialization, hierarchy, goal alignment, planning and control, and the use of extrinsic rewards to shape human behavior. These principles were elucidated early in the 20th century to maximize operational efficiency and reliability in large-scale organizations. 

The diligent application of these industrial age principles has been a boon to economic prosperity--yet if the goal is to create organizations that are highly adaptable, these principles are insuf­ficient and often toxic, as we’ve discovered during our last sprint.

Our legacy management principles comprise a creed, with operational efficiency its cardinal virtue.  Yet, operational efficiency is no longer a bleeding-edge, high-value problem.  So what are the management principles that will help our organizations be adaptable to their core?

We’ve taken a crack at identifying some of the design rules for adaptability, based on your contributions in the previous sprint as well as by looking at the features of highly adaptable systems such as life, the web, and markets.   In Sprint 1.3, we’re looking for input on…

  1. Which of these principles are most important—and why?  Let us know by “liking” and commenting on these.
  2.  Are there other principles you’d add to this list?  Please share your principle here.