Is management on the table?

As you soon as you try to address a problem, it gets more complicated, because that’s what conventional management does; I wrote last week in Managing collaboration, and Paul Chepolis commented:

I couldn’t agree more. How many times has this occurred with leadership teams and organizational leaders. Take a simple problem, lose total perspective, and give it a life that is absolutely unnecessary. We kill ourselves!

As Umair Haque posted on Twitter back in November; “Name a “working” institution. Just one. Better yet, define a “working” institution. See the problem? Management is the problem:

  • Learning Management
  • Information Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Financial Management; etc.

We falsely believe we can manage the future, based on the past. Researchers have shown  experts do worse than laypeople in predicting the stock market and that these experts do even worse than just flipping a coin.  Managing for the future is a conceit of those in power and our institutions are based on the notion of being able to manage complex systems using mechanistic models.

For any change initiative, there is often an assumption of going from the current state to a desired state, as if there is some kind of linear progression. This can be the false presumption of many a performance analysis. Thinking in terms of networks moves us beyond linear thinking. Dave Gray says we even need to change the way we think about change:

If change is a constant, then the only real sustainable competitive advantage is to be able to grow and evolve continually, to stay ahead of the competitive pack.

You can’t do this with the traditional business structure that we’ve inherited from the industrial revolution. This isn’t like redecorating a room in your house or moving the furniture around. This is a major rehab project that might affect the foundations, the plumbing and everything else. It requires some pretty fundamental rethinking of the way your company is structured, how you execute your strategy, and how you’re going to evolve.

What the world requires today is organizations that are capable of continuous creativity and innovation, that can adapt and evolve on a continual basis; organizations that can generate new businesses, that can sprout and branch into new categories and new industries; that can recover quickly from failures and move on.

I have not seen organizations move toward a more social business model without changing management. That may mean reducing the number of managers; empowering people who are customer-facing; or significantly opening up the workflow and making it more transparent. Management is the problem but management is also the solution, if you change it.

A world without bosses may seem like science fiction but then so did a world without secretaries, typing pools, or switchboard operators not that long ago. To be successful in changing to a networked enterprise, the management  structure must be up for negotiation. This may be the critical question to ask at the beginning of any change (social business, enterprise 2.0, social learning) initiative. Is management on the table? If not, why even start?

Image: William Jay Gaynor: NYC under new management (1913)

8 Responses to “Is management on the table?”

  1. BagtownMike

    And it all makes sense, and you can convince recent graduates with open minds that this is so. Until, they get promoted in to a managerial position. Then all bets are off because now they are part of the problem. They have theirs now.

    The sixties were right.

    • Harold Jarche

      Like Churchill said, first we shape our structures and then our structures shape us. That’s why I’m trying to change the structures of management, one client at a time.

      I still think that to be effective, change management means changing management, not just managers.

  2. Tim Wright

    Good post Harold – as I say the problem with things like “knowledge management” is that there is far too much focus on the knowledge rather than management

  3. Jon Husband

    And it all makes sense, and you can convince recent graduates with open minds that this is so. Until, they get promoted in to a managerial position. Then all bets are off because now they are part of the problem. They have theirs now.

    Bingo !

    I still think that to be effective, change management means changing management, not just managers.

    Bingo squared !

  4. Jon Husband

    “We” need to change the methods through which people feel at the level of their bones that they are progressing in their work life by moving up the ladder and obtaining greater salaried, [perks and status .. as opposed to making constant positive contribution to the collective efforts of the entity we call an organization.

    Tall order .. networks do not operate the way stable, tough-to-move pyramids do.

  5. lawrence serewicz

    I cannot agree. I think that management is finally coming into it own for the first time. We are now on the cusp of moving away from command and control. Despite what management theorists may suggest, our organisations and corporations are based on a command and control system. What we are seeing, which is why this is such an exciting and challenging time, is the emergence of management. For the first time organisations will have to find managers and management, rather than command and control, will be required.
    Instead of saying “you must do this because I am in authority” leaders and managers will have to convince employees and work collaboratively with them.
    The manager’s new role will be to make sense of things, explain them, and organise the talents around them to achieve that end. Organisations will be flatter and smaller for that reason as they become less pyramids. Instead of making sense of what the top leadership says, the manager’s role will be making sense for the talent they manage for the projects they have and thus be more coordinators than commanders.

    A further point to consider is that Umair Haque is wrong. His question begs the issue. All organisations work, they are effective or they go out of business. What is the actual question is whether they are effective and whether they could be improved. Otherwise it is like asking for an efficient government. Governments are not designed to be efficient. They are designed to govern and efficient government is not the same as good government because government is not a business.
    Finally, senior managers “create” more problems is usually a sign that their staff work supporting them, explaining the issue is weak and their culture cannot tolerate critical upwards communications. We see this so often when senior managment teams take a position contrary to what the frontline workers know to be true. The reason for this is that the senior managers are out of touch with the frontlines because the middle managers are not conveying the critical messages upwards.
    What the innovations in social technology allow is for those messages to come foward and be seen without waiting for someone to interpret it or pass it upwards. A worker blogging about inefficiency on the frontlines can be seen by the senior managers rather than being diluted or distorted by middle managers unwilling, unable, or simply scared to tell them that a problem exists.
    In that sense, management can now finally begin to happen beyond the small teams to whole organisations. We live in exciting times and management definitely is on the table as a main course rather than a special offer.

  6. Jon Husband

    @lawrence …

    Yes, here and there management is beginning to change, emerge towards something new and different. I am thinking the point re: the question in the title of this post is to probe whether or not the core/central tenets of management philosophy (or said another way, the dominant paradigm of management today in most organizations) need to re-defined in light of interconnected networks of smart people engaged in purposeful work .. people who are working smarter and therefore will demand to be the subject(s) and object(s) of ‘management’ in different ways.

    It may be that you’ve only read this post and not some or many of Harold’s other posts. He is a thought leader in describing in practical and actionable terms what are some of the key elements and principles towards which ‘management’ is emerging (my opinion).

  7. Robert Paterson

    Great post H. Organizations that do simple things can be “managed” for reductionism works for the simple. But they cannot do Complex things by design. Why they cannot deploy social media correctly either.

    So as the hyperconnected world takes over, the organizations that use a reductionist model – managing direct linkages and set goals have to fail.

    What traditional organization is really making today? They still exist because they shut out the competition – copyright etc. They exist by using power. This too will fail. They are Zombies


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