The Future of Management – Recipes and Mastery


For much of the industrial era, management has been a challenge of how slavishly can you copy the recipe. We are entering an era when mastery will demand new approaches and innovation and experimentation on management.

When you start cooking, you learn to copy a recipe closely. When you start in management, you learn to copy a recipe from GM, GE or another organisation. The spreading of a linear process mindset across industries has led to the view that the successful recipe for management is known. In this mindset, the challenge is compliance. Managers need to follow the recipe and variation must be eliminated.   

Experienced cooks use recipes as guides for experimenting and adapting their practice. They work out loud sharing innovations in communities, accelerating the change in practice. Experienced cooks realise that recipes are no help when circumstances change or you need to adjust to variations in ingredients or tools.  At the point where things become less predictable, mastery must take over.

Management increasingly needs to adopt a mastery mindset. Management thought leaders like Gary Hamel have been calling for innovation in management.  There are many seeking to connect the change agents of new ways of working. This connection offers the potential to amplify the mastery and the effectiveness of the practitioners, experts and other change agents of future ways of working.  

An Example: Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System has been credited with driving a great deal of the success of Toyota in winning share and profitability in the automobile industry. Importantly, the development of the Toyota Production System was an open and ongoing collaborative activity.  It developed from the insights of Ford, Deming and other founders of management. Toyota’s approach challenged its management and employees to seek new and better ways of working.

At the same time Toyota engaged with its Detroit competitors and its supply chain partners, sharing learnings, making open its factories and listening to its competitor’s approaches. Realising it needed to innovate on management as well as products, Toyota was prepared to be open and connected. 

Interestingly, many of those other organisations could not make sense of what they were seeing at Toyota.  Instead of trying to innovate their own systems they copied tools from the Toyota Production System and implemented them into their own environment as transactional interventions, often to little impact. Waves of management fads are attributable to manager’s attempts to extract a transactional change from the Toyota Production system.

Mastering innovation in management

The knowledge economy has led some firms to greater awareness of the need for management innovation. Startups, professional service firms and large organisations of the digital and knowledge economies are some of the first to realise that human potential is a differentiator. They explicitly acknowledge that innovation on the tools of management are as important to their success as innovation in their processes and systems.

Increasingly the network economy is forcing organisations to look at their world and explore the more visible and accessible systems.  No organisation is an island any more.  Systems thinking makes it even clearer that management’s simple recipes may not address the needs of all stakeholders or complex and dynamic processes.

When you let go of the management recipes, things do get more challenging. Measures are not as precise. Interventions are not as predictable. The shift for managers is from focusing on efficiency to focusing on effectiveness. In our traditional efficiency mindset we rarely consider the human potential lost because policy prevents action or requires wasteful steps. 

In a mastery approach, instead of reducing loss and ensuring compliance, managers now have the potential to drive step changes in performance by discovering and implementing new and better ways of working. 

How are you challenge your managers to step away from the recipe book and innovate on new ways of working? How are you helping them develop mastery in the practice, share that with their teams and continuously build the skills to connect and learn with others as a Network Navigator?

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