Previous month:
March 2009
Next month:
May 2009

April 2009

Beyond "The Management Myth"

"If you want to succeed in business, don't get an MBA. Study philosophy instead." Matthew Stewart.   

Those words, the byline of a June 2006 article, "The Management Myth", were brought to my attention by my friend Alexander Kjerulf, better known as the Chief Happiness Officer. While they certainly caught my attention, I was even more intrigued by the fact that they were written by the founder of a successful management consulting firm; an industry where an MBA is almost obligatory. 

In the wake of the credit crunch, business schools, consultants and MBAs have all come under great scrutiny and suffered rather tarnished reputations, so it was noteworthy that this piece was written before that professional Icarian plunge. This enhanced its credibility even more. For me, however, it struck an even deeper chord. For as long as I can remember the ambitious part of my persona has hankered after studying an MBA, while the more prosaic, natural inclination has always leaned more towards studying philosophy. This appeared to vindicate such leanings.

Yet it goes deeper than that, because it actually articulated something that I had never dared voice - a question as to the real merit of an MBA. The longer I worked the more I have grown to see 'management' as being primarily about people. Business, like any other walk of life, is ultimately all about people, with sustained success therefore being the ability to make the most of the people one works with. Thus management and people management are actually synonymous terms. Consequently, the greater my exposure to management theory and MBAs, the more convinced I have become that they are deficient because they do not adequately address the humanitarian aspects upon which success is ultimately dependent. Now, here at last, is independent justification for my quasi-heretical thinking.

Of course there is more too it than that, because as a consultant myself, there is a kind of schizophrenia that prevents me from distancing myself too far from the "bread-and-butter" management theory that provides my livelihood. There is no doubt that Stewart has some very forthright opinions, and certainly does not have a high regard for the profession or the management theory that underpins it. Thus I found myself challenging every statement to ascertain to what extent I could or couldn't accept it or had compromised myself.

For instance, he writes about the "maddening papal infallibility" for which he appears to find scant justification. He also refers to the fads, and says, "Each new fad calls attention to one virtue or another - first its efficiency, then quality, next it's customer satisfaction, then supplier satisfaction, then self-satisfaction, and finally, at some point, it's efficiency all over again."  This certainly caused some soul searching, because I passionately believe that my service makes a difference, and thus I could easily fall into a trap of "papal infallibility." I also found myself questioning whether my offering could be categorised as being a fad, or even whether I was myself being trendy in following the "self-satisfaction" fad.

I was certainly relieved to be able to convince myself that this was definitely not the case. Why not? Because my approach is a philosophical one! It is founded entirely on creating a win-win for individual and organisation, and based on mutual-optimisation. Certainly the potential benefits it offers exceed anything normally associated with management theory. I am sure Stewart would approve!

Recognising the Investment of Years

Businesses owe their employees - the investors of years - the same consideration that they owe their investors of capital. Discuss!

However, before you do, you might like to read the blog "What do we owe an employee?"

This certainly is an interesting read and provides much food for thought. Is considering employees just some old-fashioned, liberal mumbo-jumbo that the massive culling of jobs we are currently witnessing gives lie to, or does it point to some old fashioned values that need to be restored?  

As I said in my comment on the blog, perhaps the whole employee concept is outdated. While people have worked for reward for centuries, Gary Hamel's thought-provoking book, The Future of Management, states that the concept of an employee as we have come to know it is very much a 20th century phenomenon. Perhaps then it is one whose purpose has served its time.

Certainly the bonds that have cemented the employee relationship appear to be breaking. Neither party delivers the loyalty intrinsically expected of the other, while employee engagement statistics indicate that people are only giving a small part of what they could be. So maybe it is time for new solutions. And maybe my solution - valuing people as human assets, with its concomitant offerings - does offer a new way forward: a way of rebuilding the trust that will allow individual and organisation alike to go much further towards respectively maximising their potential, and creating greater happiness at work. I would certainly like to think so, but I would be most interested in your thoughts.

Salvation, Sabotage or Suicide

"What distinguishes our age from any other is not the world-flattening impact of communication; not the economic ascendance of China and India, not the degradation of our climate and not the resurgence of ancient religious animosities. Rather, it is a frantically accelerating pace of change." Gary Hamel, The Future of Management.

Even our recessions come faster and threaten to hit harder than anything we have seen to date!

Hamel's statement, made before the recession, is fundamental to his case for a new management approach. He argues the historical management model is outdated, asking, "Why, then, are the views of senior executives, so often granted a higher co-efficient of credibility than the convictions of mid- and lower level employees? Overweighting the views of those who are furthest away from the customer, and have most of their emotional equity invested in the past, is hardly the recipe for building a resilient enterprise." 

The pace and severity of the recession seems to reinforce this and validate Hamel's view that, "It often appears that large companies have borrowed their change model from poorly governed third-world dictatorships." If the scale of redundancies and mass layoffs witnessed since the start of the recession and the reluctance of high level executives to forego their perks does not corroborate this, it certainly highlights the feudal practices still embedded in modern management practice. 

Hamel's solution is more proactive management systems allowing greater adaptability. Summarising a key theme that employees need more thinking time, he states, "Too much of what gets done in most companies is a response to some already pressing issue; there's no slack, no space for improvisation, and no way to defend projects that are not already useful." While entirely logical this actually presents a massive challenge for it runs totally counter to the traditional call for improved productivity. 

It also presents massive logistic challenges. Let's see why. 

The Mathematics of the Working Year

1. There are 365 days per year available for work.
2. We already have 2 days off per week (Saturdays and Sundays) for 52 weeks per year, i.e. 104 days, which leaves only 261 days for work.
3. Paid holidays entitle us to a further 20 days off work, which leaves only 241 days for work.
4. There are 9 public holidays a year which leaves us with 232 days for work.
5. In a company you can normally take off less than three days sick without a doctor's note, although not more than three times a year. That means that you can take a further 6 days off, leaving you with 226 days a year for work.
6. But a (generous) working day is only 8 hours, which means that one is actually only really working for 75 days. (226/3)
7. Allowing half an hour for lunch, and another half an hour for tea/coffee and nature breaks means you lose a further 9 days (226/24) which means you end up working only for 66 days or 1,584 hours a year.  

This is the UK figure and may vary slightly from country to country. It should also be noted that it does not include time spent in meetings, or training, which means that the average person is likely to spend considerably less than 1,500 hours actually working in any given year. This begs the question as to how much time there actually is for any proactive work of the type Hamel is recommending. Yet, he gives several good examples of companies that have successfully adopted such practices. 

That being the case, one can only wonder how companies that are laying off people due to the economic climate, can ever hope to compete effectively again. Are they really saving themselves for the future; are they sabotaging their future or are they effectively committing suicide?  One thing is for sure - if they wish to thrive, they need to change their strategies pretty quickly and the Zealise way offers the best hope for embedding adaptability and resilience to change.