Somewhere on the road from small startup sensation to huge institutional borgdom, the oft-repeated process of “manage-ification by growth” fires up and kicks into high gear. It’s inevitable, or is it?
In the context of complex decisions with uncertain outcomes and no obvious right answer, the managerial mind inevitably longs for some handrails to grasp amid the smoke and flames. Strategic planning offers that consolation— or illusion— of a sure path to the future – Stewart, Matthew
In “The Management Myth“, Matthew Stewart researches how the business of “Business Strategy” got started and how it evolved over the decades. He (dis)credits Igor Ansoff with starting the phantom fad founded on “nonfalsifiable tautologies, generic reminders, and pompous maxims“. Mr. Stewart also credits mainstream strategy guru Michael Porter with growing the beast in the nineties into the mega-business it is today.
Perhaps the most interesting outcome from the rise of the business of strategy was the stratification of “management” into two classes, top management and middle management:
Top management takes responsibility for deciding on the mix of businesses a corporation ought to pursue and for judging the performance of business unit managers. Middle management is said to be responsible for the execution of activities within specific lines of business. This division within management has created a new and problematic social reality. In earlier times, there was one management and there was one labor, and telling the two apart was a fairly simple matter of looking at the clothes they wore. The rise of middle management has resulted in the emergence of a large group of individuals who technically count as managers and sartorially look the part but nonetheless live very far down the elevator shaft from the people who actually have power – Stewart, Matthew
I always wondered how the delineation between “top” and “middle” management came about. Now I know why.
Without a doubt, the most impactful (and depressing) management book I’ve read over the past few decades is Matthew Stewart’s “The Management Myth“. In his unforgettable masterpiece, Mr. Stewart interweaves his personal rise-and-fall story as a highly paid management consultant with the story of the development of management “science” during the 20th century. Both tracts are highly engaging, thought-provoking, and as I said, depressing reads.
At the end of this post, I’m gonna present a passage from Matt’s book that compares the Winslow and Mayo approaches to “scientific” management. But before I do, I feel the need to provide some context on the slots occupied by Winslow and Mayo in the annals of management “science“.
The Taylor Way
Frederick Winslow Taylor is considered by most to be the father of “scientific” management. In his management model, there are two classes of people, the thinkers (managers) and the doers (workers). Thinkers are elites and workers are dumbasses. By increasing piece/hour pay, Taylor’s model can be used to mechanistically increase efficiency, although it doesn’t come for free. Executed “scientifically“, the increase in labor cost is dwarfed by the increase in profits.
The Mayo Way
Elton Mayo, although not nearly as famous as Doug MacGregor (the eloquent theory X and X guy who I liked very much before reading this obscene book), is considered to be one of the top “scientists“, and perhaps creator of, the human relations branch of management (pseudo)science. In Mayo’s management model, there are also two classes of people, the thinkers (managers) and the feelers (workers). Thinkers are also elites, but workers are bundles of emotions. By manipulating emotions, Mayo’s model can be used to “humanely” increase efficiency. But unlike the reviled, inhumane, Taylor model, the efficiency gains from Mayo’s “nice” model are totally free. A double win! Productivity gains in an ethical manner with no additionally incurred financial cost to the dudes in the head shed. Management is happy and the workery is a happy, self-realized community. W00t!
OK, now with the context in place, here’s the passage I promised:
Mayo’s drive for control makes Taylor look like a placard-waving champion of the workingman. The father of scientific management may have referred to his workers as “drays” and “oxen,” but with his incentive-based piece-rate systems he nonetheless took for granted that these beasts of burden had the capacity to make economic decisions for themselves on the basis of their material self-interest. In Mayo’s world, however, the workers of the world lack this basic rational capacity to act in their own self-interest. – Stewart, Matthew (2009-08-10). The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting it Wrong (p. 135). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
When I first read that passage, it sent an uncomfortable shiver down my spine. Was it as good for you as it was for me?
Shoving all the preceding BD00 drama aside, I’d rather be happy (and duped?) making $XXXX than be miserable making the same amount. I just wish that badass Matt didn’t throw his turd in my damn punchbowl!
In case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been relentlessly railing lately against the guild of agile coaches on Twitter, this post exposes my main motivational force. From what I’ve seen, the coaching community rarely, if ever, thinks or speaks or writes about where the fruits of their so-called 400% efficiency improvements end up. They either auto-assume that the tropical delights are doled out fairly, or the topic is taboo; undiscussable (RIP Chris Argyris).
Take a guess at which CEO recently made all these inspirational statements:
- “Overall I am very pleased with the progress we have made, but we still have a lot of work to do to drive consistent execution and navigate a rapidly shifting marketplace.”
- “We saw improved sales in our mainstream XXXXX business, but we need to improve our pricing discipline and profitability,”
- “We saw improved sales execution, a strong hyper-scale quarter, and stabilization in XXXXX complimented by revenue growth in YYYYYYY”
- “We improved our share position in all three regions”
- “We continue to manage the end-to-end cost structure of our XXXXX business with profitability very much in mind.”
- “Looking forward we will stay committed to smart capital allocation and profitable growth.”
- “As we said at our security analyst meeting last month, we believe we can grow both margin and share over the longer term. We’ll continue to be aggressive in targeted cases, but we have more opportunity to improve our profitability”
If you’re expecting an answer from BD00, then fuggedaboud it. You can pick any CEO because the vast majority of C-execs speak in this same tongue. But ya know what? Despite the standard BD00 sarcasm oozing from this post, the “system” demands that somebody do it; and I’m thankful that those who do it, do do it. I wouldn’t want to do it. In addition to not fitting into the physical and psychological profiles required by the C-level community, it’s not my cup of tea.
When I first encountered the work of each of these three original thinkers, it blew me away. Their insights on organizational and management behaviors were like a breath of fresh air compared to the C-suite pandering, jargonized junk that business schools spew and pop business icons like Tom Peters promulgate (no offense Tom, I like some of your ideas).
Managers who are skilled communicators may also be good at covering up real problems – Chris Argyris
AFAIK, there’s nobody like this trio of intellectual giants left standing (maybe they’ve won?). There are, however, a handful of second string, accessible, truth-tellers out there. Henry Mintzberg, Sam Culbert, and Steve Denning come to mind. Who can you add to this list?
Every once in a blue moon, BD00′s conscience compels him to apologize to the guild of 20th century management for his non-compliant, “unacceptable“, online behavior . Here’s this year’s mild BD00 apology:
I’m really glad my conscience periodically crashes the Ackoff-Deming-Argyris-Senge-Hamel-Semler-Nayar-Hsieh anti-management party that rocks on in my brain. It gives the non-BD00 half of me the comfort of knowing that he’s not an apathetic, tunnel-visioned psychopath… errr does it?
Even though it has a title and cover design that only a Harvard MBA could love, I picked up Robert Austin’s “Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” on a twitter tip from Torbjörn Gyllebring. As soon as I cracked the cover, I knew it was gonna be a classic. The foreword was written by one of my all time favorite software authors, Tom DeMarco.
Mr. Austin discovered perhaps the first recorded instance of the well worn “schedule is king!” management law:
Such scenarios, in which program managers or contractors attend to measurements of timeliness of delivery to the exclusion of all else, are reported as early as 1882. In that year, the newly built U.S.S. Omaha was discovered to have onboard-coal-room for only four days’ steaming; in the rush to stay on schedule, no one had been willing to force notice of this defect at a high enough level to ensure its correction.
Every once in a blue moon, I finish a book so engrossing that I immediately reread it before cracking open a different one. Mr. Austin’s MAMPIO is one of those gems and I’m well into my second romp through it. Since it’s loaded with a gazillion ideas for blog posts, expect more over-the-top BD00 distortions to come. W00t!
Temporary and Employee base class “objects” get paid by the company to do work that directly creates value. Manager objects inherit an Employee’s responsibilities and encapsulate new, manager-specific, behaviors; like monitoring/commanding/reprimanding non-manager Employees, Temps, and Assistants. Proceeding down the inheritance tree on the right, a Director object inherits the behaviors of both the Manager and Employee classes while adding new “directorial” behaviors.
When BD00 saw Bjarne’s inheritance tree example, he said to himself “Dude, you got it wrong. If you wanted to model the real world, here’s what you shoulda presented“:
It woulda added a touch of edgy humor to the book, dontcha think?
When I write my first programming book, I’m gonna have diagrams like that and code fragments like this in it:
I’m thinking of hatching a kickstarter.com project and titling the hybrid book something like “Management Idiots And Programming Idioms“. What would you name it, and would you buy it?
Another one bites the dust. Another one bites the dust. And another one gone, and another one gone… – Queen
Companies that have a superficial dual career ladder love to delude themselves into thinking they have a real one. The alternative, which is “unacceptable!” because it would trigger an unsettling feeling of cognitive dissonance and undermine a self-image of infallibility, is to simply own up to the inconsistency and stop lying to themselves and their constituents.
It’s always a sad affair to watch brilliant engineers jump from the dead-end technical ladder to the golden management ladder because it’s the only way they can do more for themselves and their families.
Sometimes the “promotion” works out fine for both the org and the newly minted manager. But sometimes it achieves a double loss. The engineer morphs into a crappy manager with poor people skills, a propensity to obsess over schedules, and a bent toward micro-managing technical details. Plus (or should I say minus?), the org’s product development group loses precious technical expertise. D’oh! I hate when that double whammy happens.
If you haven’t seen the following hilarious and entertaining “I Quit” youtube video, then you’ve been living in a cave for too long. It’s gone viral with over 14 million hits as of this writing.
The fact that so many people tuned in says a lot about how organizations operate in the 21st century. Sure, there’s been some progress in injecting more humanity into the workplace since the dawn of the 2oth century, but there’s so much more that can be done.
Sadly, the dudes who have the power to get it done don’t want it to get done. It’s all about ego, loss of control, loss of stature, yada, yada, yada. Take your pick.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair