What matters now ?

Summary : with his new books, Gary Hamel sets down the cornerstones of the enterprise of tomorrow. Social, connected ? Hamel avoids the usual clichés and put things in a more traditional perspective that could be understood by any leader and not only those who once had a vision by looking at facebook a morning. An approach that’s very interesting for another reason : it’s centered on human capital, the sustainability of the people/business relationship and of the business performance as well as the impact of this performance on societal concerns. He relies on a lot of various cases in which it will always be possible not to recognize oneself in order to avoid facing inconvenient truths.

So we left Gary Hamel with The Future of Management that caused a big stir when it was published (and is still doing). He’s coming back today with What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation. Right moment to sum up the situation with the one that is often seen as one of the world gurus in management and the future of enterprise. Knowing that he ended his previous book with the idea that the enterprise of tomorrow will look like web 2.0 and coining the word “management 2.0”, it’s interesting to see where his thoughts lead him.

To be honest, I was a little worried when I started reading. Fear of a “care bear” and “kumbaya” vision, inspired, inspirational an idealistic but poorly realistic as we can often read. On the other hand I had a little hope : Hamel being of the leaders of  Management Hack,I could expect that even if his words were disruptive, they would rely on actual facts, demonstrating it’s not a dream but reality.

Hamel starts logically with the crisis. He crisis he sees as a regulation crisis and, most of all, an ethic one. A very interesting stand that prefigures the rest of the book. It’s about enterprises, performance but, most of all, enterprises that aim at the future, build their future with and for their employees and customers. I won’t say it’s about harmonious relationships, the feeling is quite similar. I’d even say that it’s about sustainability in performance : a performance that lasts beyond short term visions and a performance that relies on people who need to treat considerately.

In short, if there’s a crisis that’s because our organizations follow an irrelevant model that lead to what we know. And growth won’t come back without a new deal, values and the operational models they’ll make possible.

That said, Hamel organizes his book on 4 cornerstones, 5 things that matter now. Nothing surprising in the list : values, innovation, adaptability, passion, new management ideology. Very classical, what’s reassuring in some ways. But what does he say about these cornerstones ?

For each, the logic is the same. Why xxxx matters. What does it mean to put it at work. Yes it’s possible and you should do it. Example with a practical case. That’s where things become interesting.

Rather than using the usual clichés we are very used to (let people do, trust, free energies, let serendipity lead you to success), the discourse is very structured and argued. Yes, trust matter? Yes the future will rely on a win-win and harmonious relationship between businesses and people. But not to be nice or humanist : its key to performance and survival. What lead us to the cases and the “how-tos”.

Cases first. He mentions Apple, Morning Star (I already mentioned here and the whole case is there), W. L. Gore and Associates ( you can learn about here), HCL (a known case too), Bank of New-Zealand (case here) and even the Church of England. Industry, services, large and small organizations… What we read questions the way we thing people should be managed and how a serious business should be run : emerging and co-opted leaders at gore, extreme employee accountability and decentralized decision making at Morning Star…. And, in the end, it leads to same conclusion as for most of cases : they prove in an undisputable way that it works but won’t prevent people from saying “it’s not possible in my company”. Despite of the diversity of cases, of organizations, of cultures that can be foun in Hamel’s book. Easy way to say “I don’t dare”.  But, beyond that, there’s a truth that only few people agree to face and deal with while the majority is still trying to copy and paste the best practices seen elsewhere. A case only means “that’s possible, it worked in a given context, implemented this may”. If anyone is waiting for the perfect case, coming from a perfect clone of one’s company I he’ll never make a step forward. Simply put, between inaction and the amazing thing that can’t be copied but works somewhere else, there is, in the middle, a way that’s yours. But it’s up to you to find it and get there.

So, if this book shows a broad range of things that can actually be done (and will make the most conservative leaders panic even if it actually works), there’s no magic way to get there. There’s no methodology to make human systems change in the same predictable and controlled way as we do with IT or mechanical ones and I’m glad Hamel doesn’t come up with a magic methodology that would help one looking smart in dinner parties but won’t be useless to change anything in the enterprise. But many successful transformation share a couple of things : culture, trust, exemplary nature, sense and alignment. I would also add courage because if anyone can learn to swim by looking others swimming, there’s a moment when no one can dive in the pool and swim instead of him. And since a long time is needed to make things happen quickly, it’s clear that it’s about global, enterprise-scale transformations and not local replastering to implement without means, support and changing the existing. I suggest you have a look at the Pepsico case if you don’t know where to start : if it’s about people, so start with people.

Moreover, if you still need to be convinced that’s there’s no one-best-way…there’s nothing in common between Apple, Morning Start or the Church of England. But all applied all or part of Hamel’s principles, in their own way, with their culture.

So, my conclusions ? What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation is a very good read on..what matters now. No exhortation, no incantation but a human, ethic and business driven approach to the cornerstones of the future of organizations. Less provoking than The Future of Management but that’s what make it deeply rooted in reality. His previous book was good to kick asses, this one shows the main lines that should be followed.

Enjoy you reading !

PS : for those who wonder what happened to “management 2.0″…it has usefully disappeared. I’m convinced that we’re wasting too much time and credibility locking things into a 2.0 or social bubble with a branding that only makes sense for less than 10% of leaders. Hamel talks about management, values, ethic..that’s not the enterprise of tomorrow but as it should already be. Period. Nothing on tools too and I’m convinced Hamel is right : these new foundations will make tools necessary but no software will change the system of your enterprise if you don’t want it. That’s the most important stream in the transformation program. So props to Hamel who avoid the pitfalls of buzzwords that would have put the book into a niche where its message would have been lead astray  instead of adressing any kind of leader.


adaptabilité, éthique, Bank of new zealand, changement, crise, culture, gary-hamel, HCL, ideology, Innovation, Management, morning star, organisation, passion, pepsico, pepsico france, valeurs, WL Gore

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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