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What’s wrong with the way people are currently managed?

Just as authority is not a problem simply because it gives someone decision making power, management is not a problem simply because of the structure. The problem is we have built it on a set of assumptions that are contrary to human potential, dignity and worth. Including the following:

It defaults to not trusting people

It assumes people are neither motivated, trustworthy nor able enough to fulfil organisational needs without external influence and oversight. And that inadequate performance is most likely the fault of the individual, not the context. In fast-moving, highly complex environments like today, where people need to be empowered to contribute, this is a terminal concern.

It reserves decision making for the informed few

By committing to a structure where only some of the people are expected to make most of the decisions we prevent the majority of the workforce from being creative, personally invested and able to make a call when necessary.  More often than not, these scenarios are also characterised by a tendency to retain information amongst the few decision makers (because they won’t share it). This further exacerbates the problem, because the rest of the workforce is left unable to grow in their skill and experience as decision makers without it.

It favours slower, centralised decisions over responsive, local ones

Pushing and pulling decision making inwards and upwards creates a constant delay between an issue arising and its resolution. This is problematic for responding to everything from customer satisfaction issues to strategic opportunities. Slowly or quickly, this time lag problem is enough to kill an organisation.

It puts efficiency and standardisation ahead of innovation and adaptability

Standardisation and efficiency kill innovation and adaptability because they do not support the waste, failure or localised differentiation that are an inevitable (if not necessary) part of a responsive, learning organisation. They are precisely what the philosophy of efficiency and standardisation stands against. It is not possible to have both. This needed change represents a significant challenge to the dominant mental model (see: “What are mental models?”).

It sets people up to serve managers, not organisational purpose

Top-down accountability makes for an environment where it is more important to please the boss than it is to fulfil personal and organisational potential. This leads to a host of issues: it feeds politicking and presenteeism, hinders collaboration, breaks down relationships, discourages creative thinking, stifles personal growth and so on.

It exchanges relationship for process

The management norm too easily swaps dialogue and relationship for managing by numbers, targets and goals (see: “What is management-by-objectives?”). This removes the benefits available from relying on understanding, context, peer-to-peer accountability and empathy. This replacement of relationship, mixed with the compartmentalisation of work, ratchets up the need for process and bureaucratisation.

Problems are answered with more management

Management is such a dominant characteristic of the status quo, that when problems arise, it is difficult for the answer not to end up being more management. - the very thing that is usually the cause of the problem.

“In a sense, it’s a zero-sum game: the more meddlesome the managerial oversight and the more constricting the shackles of policy and process, the less passionate people are going to be about their work. You can’t expect automatons to be zealots.”

Gary Hamel

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  1. Cassa Grant

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