Trauma Free Renewal

I am trying to get through Gary Hamel's The Future of Management because (a) it is totally awesome and (b) I have a long list of other books I want to read. So I'm going to start some of my reflections on the first half of the book even before I have finished the second half.

The basic premise of the book is that "management" as a field is basically an aging technology. Things we accept as givens in management now were developed over the last century, and while our technology or our processes were radically transformed at various times, management hasn't changed so much. This is a problem. Hamel argues that management innovation is what we desperately need today. From the first chapter:

There's little that can be said with certainty about the future except this: sometime over the next decade your company will be challenged to change in a way for which it has no precedent.

Changing when you've more or less seen it before is easy. You adjust, adapt, modify, tweak, improve, etc. The problem fits within your model. Some of these changes are harder or more complicated than others, but with enough time and enough people working on it, you can usually make it through. Do your tweaking faster and more adeptly than your competitors, and people will call you a leader.

But what about something that doesn't fit the model? This is harder. You have to make bigger changes, challenge deeper assumptions, and come up with solutions that aren't yet proven. But is it really harder? Hamel points out that when companies are faced with big challenges like this, where they need new business models or make significant change, they are cast as "turnarounds." Important leaders swoop in to make dramatic changes with a crisis-focused change program complete with messaging, training, and powerpoint decks!

It doesn't have to be that way. Bigger change is hard, but it is not by definition traumatic. His goal is "trauma-free renewal," where organizations (much like systems in the human body) make automatic, spontaneous, and reflexive changes as needed. But the way we organize and the way we manage are really not comfortable with automatic, spontaneous, and reflective change. The book then explores ways to change this, and I'll write more about that in upcoming posts.

But for now I want to stay with the connection we have between trauma and renewal. I have faced some changes lately for which I did not have a precedent, and I admit they did feel traumatic. In truth, though, the trauma is mostly wrapped up in letting go of an image you have of reality that does not match the reality of reality. The trauma comes from investing heavily in a static view–that answers are permanent, that results are final–and then discovering that the world is in constant motion and not static at all. We work hard to be done, and then we are surprised and traumatized when the world keeps going. As I shifted my view to expect less permanence, the feeling of trauma dissipated, and I was better able to deal with what was happening.

Management innovation means changing the way we run our organizations in ways that break us from the dependence on being "done" and "right" and "successful." It requires a deeper awareness, both personally and systemically, of what drives our behavior and choices. But with this awareness comes some freedom from trauma, where the change is viewed as a natural shift, rather than a jarring adjustment. The result, Hamel argues, will be organizations that are "capable of continuous self-renewal in the absence of a crisis."