Management Rewired: Why feedback doesn’t work and other surprising lessons from the latest brain science by Charles Jacobs covers many of the areas discussed here, such as learning, management models and democracy in the workplace. Jacobs covers a variety of studies in science and management but this book is not a dry academic treatise but a good read sprinkled with many of the author’s personal stories. Much as Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management showed the need for new business models, Jacobs shows leaders what actually works when dealing with other people. A consistent theme is to let people manage themselves, because that works:
Rather than limit decentralization to the top of the hierarchy, why not drive it down into the organization as far as possible? Modern information technology makes such “radical decentralization” much easier now than it was in [Alfred] Sloan’s day.
Such an approach enables people to control their own destinies. From a Darwinian perspective, it’s aligned with the urgings of our selfish genes. From a market perspective, it’s more efficient and effective. From a cultural perspective, virtually every organizational innovation since the Western Electric Hawthorne studies has been aimed at fostering democracy and initiative in the workplace because it’s good for both people and the business. Moving to an entrepreneurial organization is just the next step.
Jacobs shows the overwhelming evidence that “reward, punishment and feedback don’t produce the results we intend or produce the opposite” (now there’s a message for the HR department). Methods that work are creating cognitive dissonance in order to get a shift in thinking that changes behaviour. Changing behaviour is not enough. Transforming an organization means shifting our paradigm and this is best done through stories. The most effective stories are about plans and expectations gone awry. Forget pay and bonuses, or better yet, let workers decide amongst themselves; communication is the only effective tool that leaders have.
Becoming more participative may be easier said than done, as the author shows how most 360-degree reviews have managers consistently ranking themselves as more participative than their employees do. We’re not as open as we think we are.
Management Rewired is a welcome addition to the field and should be read by anyone working in or with organizations. It’s nice to get corroboration, and a good set of reference notes, to reinforce my own work on the new nature of the firm.