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The end of management? Hold that thought

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If a CEO or top corporate executive from 1960 were teleported through time to today's organization, would he suffer culture shock? (And it would have ...

If a CEO or top corporate executive from 1960 were teleported through time to today's organization, would he suffer culture shock? (And it would have been a "he.") Maybe not, according to Gary Hamel, thought leader and author of The Future of Management. My FastForward colleague, Jim McGee, surfaced this passage from Hamel's book, which makes one realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same:

"While a suddenly resurrected 1960s-era CEO would undoubtedly be amazed by the flexibility of today’s real-time supply chains, and the ability to provide 24/7 customer service, he or she would find a great many of today’s management rituals little changed from those that governed corporate life a generation or two ago. Hierarchies may have gotten flatter, but they haven’t disappeared. Frontline employees may be smarter and better trained, but they’re still expected to line up obediently behind executive decisions. Lower-level managers are still appointed by more senior managers. Strategy still gets set at the top. And the big calls are still made by people with big titles and even bigger salaries. there may be fewer middle managers on the payroll, but those that remain are doing what managers have always done–setting budgets, assigning tasks, reviewing performance, and cajoling their subordinates to do better."

So, the takeaway is that we still have our work cut out for us, especially if we seek to move to the "new organization" based on teamwork and individual empowerment rather than hierarchy and command and control.

Indeed, in his work, Hamel argues that while modern management moved forward in leaps and bounds in the early to middle 20th century, things seem to have reached a "plateau." Now, as he put it, "despite it's indisputable accomplishments to date, modern management has bequeathed to us a set of perplexing conundrums, troubling trade-offs that cry out for bold thinking and fresh approaches."

The question is, are organizations ready for bold thinking and fresh approaches? The bottom line is that in today's hyper-competitive environment, there is no other way. The emergence of networks and ubiquitous information technology is creating new ways to interact, as well as dramatically accelerate time to market. We are at a new turning point for management, which we'll continue to explore on these pages. And, we'll have to see how comfortable that 1960s CEO will feel in a 2020 organization.

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure