Gary Hamel, in his two-part blog posting Moving Management Online, accuses traditional management bureaucracies of failing to encourage and nurture creativity and collaboration. He argues that internet tools can turn this around. Hamel identifies five key problems with large bureaucratic organizations: 1) the lower someone is in the hierarchy, the harder it is for that person’s voice to be heard; 2) creativity and innovation are compartmentalized; 3) small, insulated groups of top executives make many poorly-informed decisions; 4) an employee has only one place to go for internal funding of a new idea – to his/her boss; and 5) the time delay between when an executive no longer is contributing to organizational success and when another leader picks up that mantel is much too long. Hamel envisions an internet-driven world in which employees have many avenues for being heard, creativity and innovation can come from anywhere in the organization, executives have the information they need to make good decisions, anybody can seek funding for new ideas from anybody, and authority and leadership are fluid. He writes:
Blogs, podcasts, mash-ups, wikis, folksonomies, opinion markets, discussion boards, and social networks—these technologies have already extended the range of human creativity and collaboration in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade or two ago, and there is much more to come.
While I don’t think the internet is the silver bullet for transformation of traditional bureaucratic, command-and-control management, I do think Hamel offers some intriguing (although untested) ideas. He got me thinking about additional bureaucracy “design flaws”. One flaw in organizations that the Web is beginning to fix is that of making training and development the sole province of a single department. This performance-improvement function has been compartmentalized and siloed much like creativity and innovation. Learning new knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs is relegated to HR or a training unit in most large, bureaucratic organizations. Internet-based tools such as blogs, podcasts, wikis, discussion boards, webinars, and synchronous and asynchronous online courses offer the possibility for learning when and where employees need it. If a shop-floor engineer needs to fix a new robot, why should he/she have to wait for a class or for a hardcopy of the manual? If an executive needs some ideas about conducting a difficult performance review, why should he/she have to wait for a three-day workshop at a business school. Why can’t everyone, on their laptop or PDA, go to a database of best practices and share their learning with an online network of peers who can amplify the learning for each other. The promise of the internet is the democratization of learning, shifting the locus of control of learning from a single department to individual employees and teams.