Managing without management

Managing without management

You’d have to be living in a water-filled hole in the Black Forest not to have noticed the recent backlash against downsizing, delayering, BPR and all points West. So it’s refreshing to find a book which is, to coin a phrase, a “forwardlash”. So far from being misunderstood victims of the downsizing deluge, middle managers, in fact all managers, are the enemy and must be ruthlessly eliminated. The authors are both respected strategy consultants, but in this work they are not so much biting the hand that feeds them as gnawing through gristle and bone until the arm’s off. This is not a Left-wing thesis: management does not merely exploit the workers and ignore the customers, it goes after the shareholders (after all, they’ve got more money). And in the process of siphoning off tasty portions of the profits for themselves, managers are also responsible for the pure destruction of huge amounts of shareholder value elsewhere in the business. Management, in this analysis, is expensive, slows down decision-making, alienates the corporation from its customers – and is unnecessary.

Small businesses live without it – managerial tasks are tackled by “doers” in their spare time – and they have more fun, commitment and customer loyalty too. For the first time in the history of the large managed corporation, big businesses are losing market share to their small rivals.

The forces that the authors believe will destroy management are sixfold.

The first is customer-power. We now realise there is little if any conflict between pleasing your customers and pleasing your investors, in fact there seems to be a direct link between the two. And if everyone is focused on pleasing customers, who needs managers to tell them to get on with it? Investors, meanwhile are taking a more active say in the running of businesses, rather than being the obedient dupes of management. The authors foresee a day when investment will be provided almost entirely on venture capital lines, with the Stock Exchange – another group of intermediaries – largely sidelined. “Simplicity power” is the growing realisation that big is not beautiful, merely complex. Any benefits of scale or diversity are largely outweighed by management overhead: demergers and outsourcing point the way forward here. Information power means that the numerous communication tasks performed by managers and used by them to bolster their power can be largely eliminated by e-mail, fax and telephone. “Commercial secrecy” – a convenient excuse for the hoarding of information by managers and control by them of the means of communication – will be seen as of less value than having everyone know what they need to know. Finally, the power of strong leaders to exercise their will without the crutch of a hierarchy is evident in the success of entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

So what will replace management. Who will control the (by assumption idle, shiftless) workers? In the vast majority of cases, nothing. Management only got in the way, anyhow. Instead of a caste of overseers, a strong corporate culture deriving from strong leadership and simple goals will shape employees’ actions. If the authors are right, we could be on the brink of a collapse as remarkable as that of the Soviet Union. You may or may not accept the book’s premise. But if you rate the value of a business book by the sheer number of myths and assumptions challenged per page, then this certainly represents value for money.

Gargantua: manufactured mass culture

By: Julian Stallabrass

Publisher: Verso

Price: #12.99

This is not a management book: rather it looks at some of the cultural underpinnings and symptoms of a mass culture in which culture itself has become a commodity. Taking in both mass-produced objects such as cars and computer games, and the productions of people themselves, the author produces a powerful argument that the nature of both is determined more by their role as mass-produced objects than their cultural of practical utility. Cameras form an amusing example: as they are increasingly commoditised and stuffed with electronic “features” their usefulness as photographic tools diminishes. The amateur photographer, deprived of the ability to either learn the techniques of photography or to apply them in any useful manner, is reduced to producing a limited range of stereotyped productions.

Does this matter?

From the book’s admittedly Left-wing point of view, the astonishing consumption and incredible waste implied by this is an affront, at least to the three-quarters of the world that fail to benefit from it, and the system is inherently stable. The only flaw in this thought is that the worst position to be in is not to be labouring to serve the Gargantuan maw of the “Golden billion”, but to be totally excluded from the system.

Nor do those who provide cultural commodities have the rawest deal: it’s better to be making camcorders than growing coffee. Worse still, the route out is widely perceived as being to embrace the system, learn to feed the mass culture and stimulate the appetites of one’s consumers.

Many undeveloped economies are gearing up in anticipation of an explosion in demand. “Gargantua” one feels, is still in its infancy.

Lifelong Learning

By: Norman Longworth and W Keith Davies

Publisher: Kogan Page

Price: #18.99

If you enjoy lengthy words that describe different aspects of learning then this is the book for you. It covers turning to learning, discerning learning, burning for learning and ends with an appendix, agenda for action.

How we work is changing dramatically, and according to Norman Longworth and W Keith Davies, is likely to become more demanding in future years.

It will affect all areas of business and worklife – and those firms with the right skills will have competitive edge.

Lifelong Learning highlights the need for a society, where people are educated to a minimum graduate standard in order to survive. It cites the importance of teamwork, problem-solving, goal setting. The focus is on where industry is restructuring to incorporate the latter, and how the move towards a high value-added service industries will decrease the need for unskilled workers.

The book is full of useful case studies, including Rover’s approach to becoming a learning organisation: what was in it for Rover and what was in it for the employee. Tables with characteristics of learning organisations and principles for learning make the book less heavy going.

Introducing Investors in People

By: Mary S McLuskey

Publisher: Kogan Page

Price: #12.99

Well-informed employees work more effectively, according to Investors in People. The group, which helps firms improve the efficiency of their employees, has produced a guide and workbook to work towards the national Investors in People standard. It gives an overview of what the standard is. It looks at what people do within an organisation, their skills and whether they are being used effectively and gives case studies on how firms have achieved higher standards.

The book goes through the process of reviewing, planning and taking action and looking at ways to maintain the standard once it is in place. As well as looking at the questions and issues involved in the assessment process, each chapter ends with a summary and self-assessment exercise.

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