Gary Hamel is a man with white hair and a moustache. He’s gesturing with his hands, speaking at a conference.
Gary Hamel. Image: Matthew Hamel

Gary Hamel’s workplace predictions for 2019

6 Dec 2018

Ahead of his keynote appearance at WorkHuman 2019, Globoforce interviewed speaker Gary Hamel, a noted business thinker and bestselling author. Here is an excerpt of that interview in which he shares his predictions for the workplace in 2019 and beyond.

I think AI is going to have significant implications for work. But I also believe it is the single most overhyped technology in history, thanks largely to the fact that today, anxiety spreads at lightning pace.

It’s telling that Elon Musk at Tesla has said that one of their biggest mistakes was to believe that robots could, in every case, outperform humans. In many places, they can’t. And so, they’ve had to move away from that.

McKinsey did an interesting piece of research where it divided human capability down into 18 different categories. In some of those, such as pattern recognition, machines are going to be ahead of us. But, in terms of social interactions, in terms of novel problem-solving, we are going to maintain a lead for a long time.

My sense is that the risk posed by AI and robots to employment is directly proportional to the degree we treat human beings as robots. Because, in a world where we have robots to do the real work, we do not need human robots any more.

But what I’ve also learned is that in almost any industry where you give people the chance to develop and use their creative gifts, which is the core of humanocracy, you find human beings able to do things that machines will never be able to do.

One of the companies that I admire is US steelmaker New Core. It has very few management layers. Every frontline associate can tell you the profitability of every order that leaves a plant. There are tens of thousands of experiments that are run every year, with no senior leadership intervention at all, where frontline teams are improving their processes. It’s the most innovative steel company in the world.

Every place where I’ve seen this kind of humanocracy applied, in plants at GE, at New Core, at Haier, you see a 30pc to 50pc productivity advantage that is based entirely on the fact that they are using the brains and the creativity of their employees in ways their competitors aren’t.

Toyota gets more than 1m employee suggestions a year, and 85pc of those are implemented by the employees themselves. Over many, many decades, Toyota has built a system where frontline employees have the education, the power, the ability to think, to improve the business, to implement their ideas, with very little in the way of process or bureaucracy. The pace of improvement is faster than their competitors.

I remember sitting in a meeting 30 years ago with W Edwards Deming, who was one of the great quality pioneers, where he was talking to the leadership of Ford. And some senior executive of Ford asked him: “When do you think we’re going to catch Toyota?” And Deming said: “Are you kidding? Do you think they’re standing still?”

It took 30 years of making excuses like, ‘This is just about changing some processes’, before Ford, GM, Volkswagen and others realised it is a completely different set of beliefs about what ordinary human beings can do. We have to give up our power and our prejudice for this ever to take root.

Every HR person will tell you, ‘You can be a leader anywhere.’ Is that really true? Are there courses for employees to develop their financial expertise, to develop their marketing sophistication? The prejudice that it’s only senior people who are leaders runs very deep, and that’s going to have to change.

We have to redefine leadership as a set of capabilities that includes building a coalition of people around you, having the courage to take a small risk, being persistent, learning how to put together and sell a business case. We need to teach people those leadership capabilities completely independent of where they sit in the hierarchy. Because, if we’re not, we’re leaving an enormous amount of human capability undeveloped.

Over the next decade, the idea of leadership will become increasingly divorced from any sense of formal hierarchy. There are some progressive companies that are using social network analysis and other tools to understand where the real leaders are, who’s really adding value and who’s behaving like a leader, irrespective of their position, and who’s not.

Data is going to help us start to sort this out. And then, influence, authority, respect and money will start to flow to the natural leaders in the organisation, as opposed to the people who have just been very good at getting themselves into leadership positions.

You can read Gary Hamel’s interview in full in three parts (part one, part two and part three) on the Globoforce blog. He will deliver a keynote presentation at WorkHuman 2019, which runs from 18 to 21 March 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.

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