Gary Hamel on Workplace Bureaucracy

The opening keynote speaker at UNLEASH America was Gary Hamel, one of the world’s most influential business thinkers. He is a professor at the London Business School, director of the Management Innovation eXchange and the author of several best-selling books, including “The Future of Management” and “What Matters Now.” Hamel is also the most reprinted author in the history of the Harvard Business Review. He spoke about the stifling effects of top-down management and how we need less — not more — workplace bureaucracy. Here are highlights from Hamel’s Q&A session with the media.

Understanding the Effects of Bureaucracy

“Bureaucracy shackles people with rules that prevent them from doing the best thing for the organization, the best thing for customers,” Hamel says.

He doubts that most organizations have tried to measure the costs of bureaucracy — which include insularity (too much time spent on internal issues, politicking, too much energy spent trying to gain power) and friction (too much busy work that slows down the decision-making process). Other costs include bloating (too many management layers), risk aversion (too many barriers against taking risks) and inertia (too hard to proactively change).

“Without having a benchmark there and any cost data around that, you have no idea what it’s actually costing your organization,” Hamel says.

Ten or 15 years ago, not many companies were concerned about the environmental cost of business. But now, that’s a major issue, and companies have environmental reports. Hamel recommends doing the same with bureaucracy. “If I’m an investor and I understand that this top-heavy, rule-driven culture is going to cause the organization to miss opportunities, miss how to allocate resources and misuse their talent, that is something I want solved.” While CEOs vaguely understand these costs, he says, they haven’t actually calculated the costs and decided this is a problem that needs to be solved.

Embracing Change

It’s possible to run a billion-dollar business with virtually no management layers, though Hamel believes the average person can’t conceive of this idea because they’ve never seen it before. “For example, at GE Aviation, they have 400 employees at the plant and one plant supervisor,” he says. He recommends getting out to see these companies and how they operate to understand how they are able to maintain control, discipline and alignment without a superstructure of supervisors.

“And then you have to be able to find a migration path between the present and the future,” Hamel says. Many post-bureaucratic organizations were formed that way, so they didn’t have to “uninstall” bureaucracy and tear down all of their rules and regulations.

This can be more complicated for more traditional companies because bureaucracy does serve a function. “Even though it has a lot of downsides, bureaucracy is the way we get control and coordination and consistency in large organizations.” If you try to destroy that and start all
over, Hamel warns, that will lead to chaos. “That’s why you need to approach it as migration path as you think about such principles as openness, meritocracy, experimentation and other next-generation management principles.”

He recommends challenging long-held organizational assumptions. “You just assume that power trickles down, you assume that you need managers to manage — but none of these things are eternal truths, they’re not principles of physics.”

Using Technology to Reduce Workplace Bureaucracy

Hamel believes that technology can dramatically change how organizations are run: how to find and hire people, how to make capital and strategic decisions. But right now, technology is primarily being used for white collar productivity (sharing documents, sharing schedules, etc.) or to aggregate information and exert more control. “Managers today have an enormous amount of real-time, microscopic information about performance, and the temptation is to have time cards on steroids.” Managers are paid to control, he says, and he thinks they may use technology to disempower rather than empower workers.

Technology has offered much more choice in our lives as consumers, but where is the equivalent empowerment in the workplace? “Why don’t we design our own jobs? Why don’t we pick our own colleagues? Why don’t we choose our own bosses? Why don’t we approve our own expenses?” That might sound crazy, but Hamel says organizations are doing it.

Hiring strategies are moving toward a consensus model, he says. “Historically at Whole Foods … if you wanted to work there, you would work for a couple of weeks with one of their in-store teams, and it took a 70% vote of the in-store team to hire you.”

Even project development is becoming more democratic. Hamel says that at Chinese manufacturer Haier, every new product starts as an online project with customers. “For example, when they want to develop new air conditioners, they go to social media and ask, ‘What do you want in an air conditioner?’ The first time they did this, they received 700,000 comments and had hundreds of thousands of fans following the project.” The company even uses social media to find technical partners. In one instance, they posted a technical challenge and asked who could solve it. The outcome? Dow Chemical responded, “We can build a membrane for that.”

Can’t Make it to a Conference? Here Are Twitter Tools to Use Instead

There are some amazing conferences happening all over the world in every industry. From the unveiling of the latest products to guest speakers that are the top of the top, it can be so disappointing when you can’t afford to attend yourself, especially when you know there will be a lot going on there that can give you and edge over the competition.

This is the most common woe that I hear from others in my field: “Oh, I wanted to be there so badly, but just didn’t have the cash!” It is a sentiment I have echoed myself many times.

But the Internet has been a game changer, and social networking has expanded well beyond what we initially saw as its purpose. Twitter has become especially crucial in the sharing of information and connecting, with a number of tools to help keep up to date.

Examples of HR conferences and their official hashtags include:

Even if you are going, you may want your employees who are staying in the office to be able to follow the event to get more of your brand out there.

Here are a couple of ways that you can be there without actually being there, and so get all of the benefits. Some of these could also be used by event planners to offer others the chance to check them out.

The Tools

Tweet Archivist

Twitter tools

This is an excellent application that has a huge selection of purposes and can be used regularly for anything. As the name suggests, it is an archiving tool that extracts information from within the Twitter database and organizes it in an easily read and understood format.

Possibly the best part about this is how it is set up to give you each username, the date of a tweet, the time it was posted and the status itself. You can also customize and filter everything to give you just what you want and need.

One of the most useful options is to see which Twitter influencers have been using the hashtag. This is an excellent way to expand your Twitter connections to the conference visitors and speakers because the conference will be a good excuse to interact:

Twitter tool

Twitter Archiver

A simple update program, this runs as an extension for Google Chrome. It lets you search Twitter for any hashtag or hashtag and save matching tweets in a Google Sheet. This way you end up with a searchable Google Spreadsheet you can play with to extract most useful users and popular tweets to interact with.

Twitter tool

You can share the Google Spreadsheet with your social media team to let them interact and participate in Twitter conversations around an event.

All you do is use your Twitter account info through a login connection in the “Addons” tab of the spreadsheet. Then, you set up an archive using hashtags as a parameter.

This will allow the program to gather all tweets that use those hashtags as keywords, and put it all together into a single archive. Then, it permanently keeps it active for you to use or share with others. Some useful info you’ll see for each archived tweet:

  • How many times each tweet was retweeted and favorite
  • Whether the user was verified
  • Location of the user
  • The full bio of the user

Analytics for Twitter

If either Google Chrome or Google Spreadsheets (or both) are not an option for you, you can try this Excel app (Windows-only) that imports Twitter search results into an Excel file and archives them.

The app comes with nice visualizations. My favorite feature is, again, the ability to see users tweeting the hashtags most actively. You can go through their profiles or set up an list of potential conference attendees.

A few more tools to try:

  • Keyhole lets you archive the hashtags, download the results into an Excel file and go through historical data for the terms you need to analyze retroactively
  • Hooks allows you to set up hashtag tracking on your mobile phone in case you want to participate on the go. BestAndroidApps offers a good tutorial on how to set up mobile alerts using the app.

Now, What to Do with All Those Archives?

Whether you handle your social media marketing yourself or you have a team for that, make sure you are doing the most of your archives:

  • Engage with those tweets: Retweet, congratulate, ask questions, etc.
  • Follow people you are engaging with. Remember conference people are there to network: They will be happy to interact back!
  • Bookmark and read the tweeted URLs: Conference speakers often tweet URLs of their PowerPoint presentations, books or articles. This is your chance to educate yourself!

If you do everything right, you may be able to drive as much value as people actually attending the conference! Grow your connections and expertise for free!

Other Ways to Use the Tools

The above tools have lots of possible applications beyond conference participation. Here are just a few examples:

  • Analyze your competitors and monitor what others are saying about them. Archive the search results for more context.
  • Use the tools to archive your brand mentions. Then go through the archives regularly to create case studies, blog roundups or FAQ sections. You can embed tweets on your pages to provide trustworthy social media testimonials or real-time user reviews. Here’s how this site is doing that:

Twitter tools


Twitter is a goldmine of useful data and information. But it is also an amazing place to keep up with major events that are happening but you can’t attend yourself. These tools will help you to keep up to date, and also help event planners keep their followers up on what is going on.

Do you have any tools that you think are must have’s for this list? If so, be sure to let us know in the comments and provide a link to the download page.

photo credit: Alan O’Rourke Twitter-birds-social-media-leader-crowd via photopin (license)