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Management "Moonshots." Really?

by Dan Markovitz

Gary Hamel's Management 2.0 blog at WSJ.com features his ideas for “Management Moonshots” — 25 ambitious and radical ideas that will significantly improve business management in the future. Frankly, I wasn't terribly impressed. Some of the ideas are important, but already widely recognized, like “expanding and harnessing diversity” and “reducing fear and increasing trust.” Some ideas are turgid, jargon-laden, consultant-speak, like “de-structuring and disaggregating the organization.” (Huh? Where was he when Citigroup and AIG were building themselves into “too big to fail” institutions? Probably preaching about economies of scale.)

But what really struck me was prevalence of ideas that are a fundamental and widely-practiced aspect of lean thinking. Check out these “moonshot” ideas:

Share the work of setting direction.
To engender commitment, the responsibility for goal-setting must be distributed through a process where share of voice is a function of insight, not power.

This sure sounds like John Shook's argument of leading by influence, not by title. (Read more about that in his new book, Managing to Learn. And take a look at the lessons of WL Gore & Associates, a company committed to avoiding management by title.)

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Expand the scope of employee autonomy.
To become more adaptable and innovative, companies will have to substantially enlarge the freedom of front-line employees to collaborate, experiment, and initiate change. Management systems that systematically sacrifice freedom for discipline will have to be re-engineered.

Isn't this what workers in lean organizations do everyday, when they're solving problems, eliminating waste, and improving processes? Talk to the nurses at the University of Michigan, or the hygienists at Dr. Sami Bahri's dental office.

Further unleash human imagination.
In democratizing the tools of innovation, the Internet has unleashed a tidal wave of human creativity. Managers must learn from this, and do much more to equip employees at all levels with the tools and skills they need to be inspired business innovators.

I'm not sure that human creativity needs the internet to be unleashed, any more than an assembly line needs an expensive electronic andon system instead of a bunch of laminated red and green pieces of paper. And in any event, you can see creativity unleashed every time a worker comes up with a way to make the system flow a little bit better.

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So where does that leave us? With a bunch of “moonshot” ideas that are actually being practiced now, by smart companies that understand the power of lean. Or you can hope for an invitation to the next McKinsey conference populated by “management scholars and practitioners.”

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Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is president of Markovitz Consulting, a firm that radically improves operational speed and efficiency by applying lean concepts to knowledge work. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He also lectures on A3 thinking at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. Dan is a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences, and has consulted to organizations as diverse as Camelbak, Clif Bar, Abbott Vascular, WL Gore & Associates, Intel, the City of Menlo Park, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. His book, A Factory of One, was honored with a Shingo Research Award in 2013. Dan has also published articles in the Harvard Business Review blog, Quality Progress, Industry Week magazine, Reliable Plant magazine, and Management Services Journal, among other magazines. All of these articles are available for download on the Resources page. Earlier in his career, he held management positions in product marketing at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger, where he worked in sales, product marketing, and product development. He also has experience as an entrepreneur, having founded his own skateboarding footwear company. Dan lived in Japan for four years and is fluent in Japanese. He holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

2 Comments
  1. Bryan says

    Hi Dan,

    I agree. The list is underwhelming. What is amazing though is that people are paid to make up these lists, as if they are new revelations and nobody had ever thought of them before. The list should be one item long: “Don’t reinvent the wheel: read up on your business and organizational development history, and then act on it!” My guess is there have been hundreds of thousands of lists “orginally” authored like this one over the past 75 years.

  2. […] there are still some executives who get it. And it doesn’t require Gary Hamel’s “management moonshot” to realize that front-line employees really do have some valuable business […]

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