A conversation with Bill Fischer and Simone Cicero about Haier Group

From the Leadermorphosis podcast

This is a transcript of my interview with Bill Fischer, Professor of Innovation Management at IMD, and Simone Cicero, cofounder of Boundaryless and co-creator of the Platform Design Toolkit, for the Leadermorphosis podcast. We talk about what they have learned from years of studying and collaborating with the Chinese company Haier Group, whose Rendanheyi organisational model has been praised internationally as one of the most revolutionary management ideas of the 21st century. Our conversation explores the extraordinary leadership of CEO Zhang Ruimin, eliminating bureaucracy, designing an organisation to enable thousands of self-managed micro-enterprises, and what this model means for the future of work.

I think [Zhang Ruimin] has a simple vision — two elements that have driven all this change over all this time. One is the need to provide a better customer experience and the second is a faith that his employees know a lot. And if he could, if he could release that knowledge and their innate entrepreneurial energies, the organisation could really take off.

And, you know, we talked about six incarnations, at least, depending on how you count them. But I think it’s been one story, the same story. It’s just different chapters in how you fulfil those two meta-objectives. And I think that what’s so interesting about Zhang Ruimin is that he is consumed by this curiosity. So every time you go to see him, he’s just met everybody you’re reading now. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of Haier accessing fresh insights and then testing them, putting them to work right away.

It’s really about transcending the organisation and I think most of all, Haier is one of the few organisations in the world I know that is deliberately thinking about transcending the organisation as a concept.

B Fischer: So the opposite of centralisation is not necessarily decentralisation, right? Which is what they’re doing. But I sort of see the technology part as an enabler, that the technology makes it easier to do these things, but people are not abdicating their role in imagining the future and driving the organisation forward and in enthusing others to join with them.

What I find so interesting about Haier is that it’s creating an organisation where variance enlargement is very much at the core of what they’re doing. So they’re putting surprises back in. And if you think about what we’ve learned during the present COVID-19 virus, certainly one of the important things is we need fast moving, on-the-ground thinking that’s more imaginative. The COVID-19 virus crisis is a crisis of leadership imagination.

And what I think that the Haier model is doing is encouraging more leadership imagination throughout the organisation, not just relying on the top. But also, there’s a great deal of locality in it.

Source: from the EEEO Toolkit https://platformdesigntoolkit.com/eeeo-toolkit/

About Leadermorphosis

Leadermorphosis is a podcast exploring the emerging world of self-managing organisations and radical ways of working. Hosted by Lisa Gill, each episode features a guest thought leader or practitioner offering a unique perspective on new and innovative ways of working.

Founder of Reimaginaire, trainer and coach with Tuff Leadership Training, host of Leadermorphosis podcast.

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