What Does the Future of Management Look Like to You?

Posted by Gary Hamel on September 25, 2007

It’s hard to imagine how something that has changed so little over the past few decades—in this case, the hierarchical, bureaucratic management system that governs life in large organizations—might change dramatically in the years to come. Nevertheless, a while back my friend Tom Stewart, the editor of
Harvard Business Review, and I posted the following question online:

Looking twenty years out into the future, what one characteristic—principle, practice, or structural feature—of the “modern” industrial organization will appear to be the most antiquated or anachronistic?

Over the course of a few weeks, we received more than one hundred responses from managers around the world.

Comments came from folks working in big multinationals like Dell, Philips, Infosys, Whirlpool, ArcelorMittal and Citi, as well as from individuals working in smaller companies and start-ups.

Here are some representative answers to our question. You can also add your own thoughts here.

  • "Centralized management structure will seem most antiquated as the speed of business will continue to accelerate companies that thrive will be unencumbered with the command/control ways of the past."
  • "The need for large, expensive & highly trained information technology departments will have disappeared because reliable, robust & highly configurable solutions will be available via the Internet."
  • "Structural characteristics---already we are seeing the dissolution of almost any defined form (certainly any fixed form) reflected in network analyses that illuminate the real, or necessary, paths of process flows and communications, and the essential ongoing art of ad hoc organization."
  • "Hierarchies with people called superiors will be perceived as antiquated given that most of the connections that are important to business (ie customer contact...) are in the hands of what we today imply are inferiors!
  • "The hierarchical pyramidal organizational structure."
  • "Organizational hierarchy and the concomitant organizational control mechanisms that have accrued over the centuries will fade from the scene. Although it is always true that "one man can make a difference," the perception of leadership as a one-man show will give way to the idea of distributed leadership throughout the organization."
  • "Centralization of decision making."
  • "In 20 years' time, the one feature of the late twentieth-century industrial organization that will appear the most anachronistic will be the notion that employees must be beholden to the organization they work for. As employees increasingly have their personal sense of worth and marketability tied into how much intellectual value they have helped create, they will be unwilling to cede this intellectual property ownership to their organization."
  • "I believe that the most anachronistic feature will be the mechanistic view of business itself, e.g. that rational scientific analysis can determine and shape the optimal functioning of a group of humans. Getting people to repeat a process and stay within boxes determined by management has been shown to produce scale and efficiency, but it ignores the essence of what motivated and skilled people bring to a job that no machine ever will."
  • "The way talent is allowed to be partitioned and protected within silos."
  • "The most antiquated characteristic will be a labor force that believes in spending more then 5 years working for any company."
  • "The most antiquated or anachronistic structural feature of the late twentieth-century industrial organizations is the tightly structured organization that is slow to react to the market conditions. The potential to change should be in each and every worker and the structure should foster the mind sets to achieve that.
  • "Restricted, controlled flow of information shall be the most antiquated feature."
  • "Rigid hierarchical system would be the most antiquated. Almost flat & flexible organizational structure, based on the roles one performs, will be the rule in coming years. This will allow greater interaction and innovation within new-age organizations."
  • "Quite simply, centralized command and control. While used by most companies as the fundamental organizational structure, it in itself has become the chief impediment keeping organizations from adapting to newer more flexible structures required to grow and compete globally. Quite a paradox!!"
  • "Shareholder Value Fundementalism [will appear anachronistic in the future]. Organizations will balance human values and not focus just on economic value."
  • "The management principle (and tangible structural artifacts) that views organizational change as a periodic event and which seeks constancy and stability. This principle holds that organizations should be designed based on the mental paradigm that stability is the norm and desired end state. Today, all structures, systems, processes, programs, and people strategies are based on a stability mindset."
  • "The process of "rolling out" centralized implementations. People will look back and chuckle at the concept that a very small group of individuals (typically the same few individuals) who are the most removed from the actual work at hand, and typically sequestered in a conference room in "central office" can, in isolation (without larger iterative dialogue & consensus), envision the future course of an organization and design and execute an implementation plan which will be accepted and embraced by the entire organization."
  • "Rigid organization structures/designs that institutionalize rank, status and privilege."
  • "Compensation methods as related to hierarchical structure will appear to be the most antiquated characteristic. The old myth that education, gender, and status contribute to job placement will have evaporated. Skill, intelligence, and hard work will win out over pattern-oriented customs. The analogy of open-system software applies. Clout will go to the most ingenious not the most deeply ingrained."

Obviously, there are some patterns here. In my next posting, I’ll summarize the big themes that came out of our online survey. But first, I’d like to hear what you think. So here’s the question again:

Looking twenty years out into the future, what one characteristic—principle, practice, or structural feature—of the “modern” industrial organization will appear to be the most antiquated or anachronistic?

As you think about what’s out-moded and why, you may want to reflect specifically on what frustrates you about life inside your company—what gets in the way of innovation, what undermines commitment, what destroys motivation, what frustrates change? You can share your views by clicking on the "Comments" link below.

Once we’ve teased out a (more or less) shared view on how our legacy management model needs to change, we’ll turn our attention to the challenge of inventing radical, yet practical, alternatives to the industrial-age management practices that still predominate in most companies.


2029 - a long way to go

Management itself will be the most antiquated.

-) No more hierarchies, secret information, smart talks, fake smiles, command and control, thus traditional-management-tasks
*) Structure will be made by hyperlinks
+) Specialists will be able to get the job done accordingly to their specific talent
^) Companies and the world beg for the minds who will conceive/realize new business models and virtual structure
-) The need of management will be brought down to almost 0.

Management itself MUST BE RE-IMAGINED

Nick Weiss

Re: What Does the Future of Management Look Like to You?

One habit of thought regards management as equivalent to "business administration" and thus excludes management in places outside commerce, as for example in charities and in the public sector. More realistically, however, every organization must manage its work, people, processes, technology, etc. in order to maximize its effectiveness. Nonetheless, many people refer to university departments which teach management as "business schools." Some institutions (such as the Harvard Business School) use that name while others (such as the Yale School of Management) employ the more inclusive term "management." Meanwhile, Layoffs are an epidemic. It seems at times that a return of the plague would be preferable to more layoffs (Not really.) Well, the number of layoffs and more payday loans being taken out are attributable to the people that many thought to be the newly untouchable group – the hi-tech industries. Well, hi-tech isn't quite high profit as much anymore. The recession has forced people to cut back on their tech toys, so software and hardware developers have been shedding employees. IBM, for instance, just farmed out 5,000 jobs overseas. (Executive bonuses and oriental rugs in the office MUST be protected.) It's a sad day in yuppie communities, as the thing they wished to avoid from the blue collar world is now hitting their neighborhoods as well: Layoffs.