Do we need to rethink what counts as management?

Anybody who does not believe, as I do, that “command and control” management styles have actually contributed to a decline in efficiency in both industry and services, whether it be in customer services or in public services, would do well to spend some time pondering the implications of Simon Caulkin’s short essay  The more we manage, the worse we make things which was published in yesterday’s Observer.

 Here we have something that Caulkin has repeatedly returned to over his years as an Observer columnist, but here we also have something that few people have yet recognise, or give  the serious consideration it patently deserves.

…..Where 40 years ago there were just two UK business schools, now there are more than 100, and business is the single most popular undergraduate degree. But business schools are only a part of what has become a management industry in its own right, with a full cast of ideas entrepreneurs (gurus and authors), mass infrastructure and ‘solution’ providers (IT firms and consultancies), educators, and of course promoters and hucksters (PR and press) – all of it eventually paid for, directly or indirectly, by the client.

Feeding off itself, this bubbling ecology has generated a ferment of new products and relationships – from offshoring to corporate social responsibility, customer relations management to coaching – none of which existed 40 years ago. If a problem can be expressed in words, someone will write a software ‘solution’ to manage it.

Alas, more doesn’t mean better. Much of this swirling management activity adds no value, and indeed hides the wood within the trees. It is, to put it politely, management auto-stimulation, which exists only because the main management effort of the past four decades has been perversely channelled up a dead end.

Mind you, expecting anybody from this same”management industry” to admit that they just might be in the business of, as Caulkin so delicately phrases it,  “auto-stimulation” is pretty much like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas.


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