Why can’t a manager do his “stuff”?

Stefan Stern’s recent blog in the Financial Times asks if there is a better way forward for managers? Why are they so often part of the problem as opposed to the solution? Why don’t managers help get “stuff” done?

Think about it. Surely, it’s obvious. A manager is chosen because he / she has demonstrated specific skills relevant to the position; leadership, human resources management, knowledge, initiative, etc.

The reality is often very different. Promotion may be the result of politics or family intrigue, rather than ability. Alternatively, the job description may change over time, while the individual has proved incapable of adjustment. Whatever, the organisation reveals an inability to “deal with” the bottleneck.

Bottom line: Potential disaster, unhappy staff, poor output, negative knock-on effect with other departments. Funnily enough, the issues can often be sorted out by investing a few thousand in a training programme from the Carnegie Institute or similar.

But that requires somebody in authority taking responsibility. They will have to openly recognise the problem and then handle it. Very awkward!

Stern discusses a book by Julian Birkinshaw, “Reinventing Management”. 

…Prof Birkinshaw says we should recognise that businesses also have management models. The problem is, the models that many employers use – whether consciously or not – are failing. “The harsh reality is that today’s large business organisations are – with notable exceptions – miserable places to spend our working lives,” he writes. “Fear and distrust are endemic. Aggressive and unpleasant behaviour is condoned. Creativity and passion are suppressed.”

….. When the economist Richard Layard published his book Happiness in 2005, his research revealed that managers were the last people most of us want to spend any time with. In fact, most people would rather be alone than with the boss.

Why has the vital practice of management become so discredited? …. We have lost sight of the basic point: that management is about “getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives”. In different settings in the early 21st century, different management models will be required.

I know of one multinational where the centrality of the decision making has crushed local initiatives to create new profit centres. But the reporting is now effected on time. Whoppee! Apparently that makes the top team happy.

One of my mentoring colleagues has reported that the senior management of his client is spread very thinly over a string of new projects. Core activities appear to be suffering. Thought out strategy has been replaced by the “fire brigade model”. That is to say they rush from one issue to the next, as quickly as they come up, controlling that crisis. Success is difficult to measure, while satisfaction escapes most. The long term effect on the company is not positive.

Alternatively, one of my clients has a small company. The CEO has clearly designated tasks for each person. Growth is perceived, and everyone knows how they will fit into the expected changes. Predicted sales towards the end of 2011 are looking positive.

Evidently, this is a place where everyone knows the stuff which needs to be done and is pleased to play their part. Which begs the question:If this SME, lying on the outskirts of a dusty city in the Middle East, has got the message, why have other – often more sophisticated set ups – missed it by a mile?

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