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Gary Hamel's Ideal Companies

The second segment of Gary Hamel's "The Future Of Management" features case studies of three companies with unusual management structures: Whole Foods, W.L. Gore and Google. All of them have been written about heavily in the business press over the years, and so some of Hamel's work may seem familiar (an excerpt also ran recently in Fortune).

Hamel boils down each firm's management approach into a 'management innovation challenge' table, featuring three challenges and three answers.

Thus, for Whole Foods one such challenge was 'how do you empower people by managing less while retaining discipline and focus?' The Whole Foods Answer: 'give employees a large dose of discretion; provide them with the information they need to make wise decisions; and then hold them accountable for results.'

Or, How do you make everyone in your company an innovator? Gore's answer: do away with hierarchy; continually reinforce the belief that innovation can come from anyone; co-locate employees with diverse skills to facilitate the creative process.

Or How do you speed up the shift from investment in existing projects to new ones? Google's answer: a formalized process of giving people 30 percent of their time to projects that are not specifically related to their current jobs, and giving people the freedom to do market experiments to build a case for their ideas.

Hamel picked these three companies because they're big and unusual. They are also, as he acknowledges, companies that started out determined not to structure themselves like typical companies. So the question is whether a typical company can remake itself like one of these firms without killing itself in the process.

Hamel claims the typical company can, and in my next post I'll look at his prescription for change.

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