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January 14, 2013 10:51 AM

Goodbye to Managers and Saint Midnight?

There was a subtly delicious moment at the WWD CEO Summit this week when business professor Gary Hamel told a room full of high-powered managers that, in the future, managers wouldn't be needed....

There was a subtly delicious moment at the WWD CEO Summit this week when business professor Gary Hamel told a room full of high-powered managers that, in the future, managers wouldn't be needed.


Alas, I was the only peon in the room to appreciate it. 

Hamel said business needed to evolve, to grow into something that had more of the structure of the Web, where employees would have more freedom and perhaps the option to choose their own bosses, set corporate strategy and sign off on their own capital expenditures. 

"We've been kicking bureaucracy in the shins, but we haven't delivered a knockout blow yet," Hamel said. "We have to put a stake through the heart of bureaucracy." 

Amen, I thought. But then again, who could really love bureaucracy? It's such an easy thing to hate, for both line employees and managers. 

Hamel had lots of examples of companies that were making the changes he described, but it all seemed so, foreign, so far into the future, almost business management sci-fi. 

Choosing your own boss? Becoming a boss simply by convincing your peers to go along with one of your projects? 

How could such a change ever really come to pass? It's such a big jump. 

The question conjured up for me the thought of something I learned in a college history class once: Saint Monday. 

Monday kind of sort of used to be part of the weekend. At the dawn of the industrial revolution, people had all sorts of trouble adjusting to the structured life of the factory. They were used to substance farming or the natural rhythms of their prior lives and tended to work when they needed to. 

So when they got paid on Friday, they didn't show up on Monday because they hadn't run out of money yet. The day after Sunday was a day of rest, Saint Monday. 

Factory owners had to struggle to establish the workweek. 

There, I thought, is a pretty dramatic shift in how people worked and thought out their lives. Could changes like this really be happening now? 

Hmm, I wondered as I checked my e-mail at midnight, just before going to bed. When did I start to feel it was somehow wrong to go to bed without being up to the second on work? 

You know, maybe these types of managerial changes aren't so far-fetched, maybe they're just hard to envision through all of the other changes.
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