170 – ‘The Utopia of Rules – On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy’ by David Graber.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          620 words

Utopia of Rules cover

Every so often I come across an interesting book that challenges orthodox thinking. This is one of those books. Published earlier this year to a mixed reception, as a bureaucrat I found it rewarding reading. It was also reassuring – maybe we aren’t the half-wit brethren of private sector management. Perhaps the private sector is a poor emulator of public sector bureaucracy?

There are too many interesting and thought-provoking passages in the various essays making up the book to mention them all. I have reproduced some favourites below.

“The rise of the modern corporation, in the late nineteenth century, was largely seen as a matter of applying modern, bureaucratic techniques to the private sector – and these techniques were assumed to be required, when operating on a large scale, because they were more efficient than the networks of personal or informal connections that had dominated the world of small family firms.” (p.11)

This is an intriguing thought when you consider Peter F. Drucker’s observation that by the 1970’s public sector organisations were unsuccessfully copying private sector business management ideas. Continue reading

123 – Reinventing Management – Architecture and Ideology. Gary Hamel.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1300 words

inertial incremental insipid

Gary Hamel starts his dissection of large organisations with a series of descriptors; inertial, incremental, and insipid. Reading his paper made me feel like returning to small business. I once heard the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Industry Group talking about a poll of his members. He asked them what they would like from government and they said that they wanted government to be positive, intelligent, and credible – the antidote to the inertial, incremental and insipid.

Hamel is describing what he calls the congenital disabilities of large organisations. By inertial, Hamel means that they are ‘frequently caught out by the future and seldom change in the absence of a crisis’.

 “Deep change, when it happens, is belated and convulsive, and typically requires an overhaul of the leadership team.”

By incremental, Hamel means that despite their resource advantages, incumbents are seldom the authors of game-changing innovation.

“It’s not that veteran CEOs discount the value of innovation; rather, they’ve inherited organizational structures and processes that are inherently toxic to break-out thinking and relentless experimentation. Strangely, most CEOs seem resigned to this fact, since few, if any, have tackled the challenge of innovation with the sort of zeal and persistence they’ve devoted to the pursuit operational efficiency.”

By insipid, Hamel means they are emotionally sterile. He says that managers know how to command obedience and diligence, but initiative, imagination and passion can’t be commanded—they are gifts.

“Every day, employees choose whether to bring those gifts to work or not, and the evidence suggests they usually leave them at home. In Gallup’s latest 142-country survey on the State of the Global Workplace, only 13% of employees were truly engaged in their work. Imagine, if you will, a car engine so woefully inefficient that only 13% of the gas it consumes actually combusts. That’s the sort of waste we’re talking about. Large organisations squander more human capability than they use.”

Hamel is excoriating in his examination of the supposed ‘remedies’ advanced over the years Continue reading