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Unfinished Management

We have all heard praise heaped on companies with flat structures, erectile which echew hierarchy in favor of consensus. But people can be forgiven their skepticism about whether this is the best way to get things done. In a recent article in the Financial Times, online CEO Terri Kelly, who runs $2.3 billion textile company, WL Gore, argues that while an inclusive management approach can take longer to reach decisions, it has stonger buy-in and investment in those decisions which pays off in driving execution.

The key to successfully negotiating this style, it seems, lies in a different approach to the distribution of power. Unfinished management requires ceding control to the system or process, trusting that common commitments and values can shape norms that are as strong or stronger than those established by conventional leadership. Nor does this approach obviate or preclude individual leadership, it just requires a more delicate negotiation between management and the managed.

If the idea of management as an unfinished or open framework has a virtue over established management styles it lies in its openess to a spectrum of vision. Perhaps this creates organizations with better peripheral awareness?


  1. Great points MAD. If we actually envision organizational problems as wicked problems with many stakeholders, it completely changes the nature of decision making. The CEO becomes a kind of organizing facilitator, and process evolution becomes a major platform for sustainable innovation. Processes are fuzzy things to design, but critical, because its where hard-won org knowledge sticks and once embedded, becomes hard for competitors to steal.

    Writing about power is easy, actually changing power relationships not so. Wait, even writing clearly about power is not so easy - the audience always thinks it means “someone else,” we (most of us, us included) don’t take responsibility for our own power and so the “unaware will” becomes a little tyranny.

    The issue of peripheral awareness is big. I write about this as innovation sensing and the McLuhan early warning thing. These issues are highlighted in my upcoming Nimble book titled: We Tried to Warn You: Innovations in leadership for the learning organization. On the street January 2009.

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 10:48 am | Permalink
  2. The FT article is based on Gary Hamel’s book “The Future of Management”, which I warmly recommend:

    Gary Hamel gathered the crème de la crème of management thinking for a meeting to discuss innovation in management. Attendees included no less than C.K. Prahalad, Peter Senge, Henry Mintzberg, Tim Brown, and, and, and.

    You can find an account of the meeting by David Sibbet:

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

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