In What’s Wrong With Management and How to Get It Right top strategy consultant Tony Manning offers insight and advice, drawn from 100 years of management history, needed to thrive in today’s hypercompetitive business environment.
In the excerpt of the book below, Manning discusses the staggering stagnation of management theory. He compares contemporary “thought leadership” to theory and practice from up to a century ago, and concludes “we’re stuck in deep sand”.
It is fascinating how management principles regarded as on the knife-edge of innovation today were regarded as commonplace in the 1950s.
Read the excerpt:
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Much ado about precious little
Compare what doctors knew about infection control during the Anglo-Boer War with what they know today, or an engineer’s approach to bridge-building then and now, and the difference is huge. But compare what was known about management then with what we know today, and you can barely spot the difference.
Remarkably, in the one area of human affairs that affects almost all others, we’re stuck in deep sand. In both theory and practice the wheels keep spinning.
Henri Fayol told us in 1916 that management had five aspects: forecasting and planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling.
Fast forward a couple of decades. The fundamental work of managers was still much the same. According to Drucker, it comprised five basic tasks: 1) setting objectives, 2) organizing, 3) motivating and communicating, 4) measuring, and 5) developing people.
Fast forward again, to Henry Mintzberg in 2009, explaining the roles of managers as: 1) communicating, 2) controlling, 3) leading, 4) linking, 5) doing, and 6) dealing.
And then, in 2010, Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria suggest that a CEO’s many activities fit these categories: 1) direction, 2) organization, 3) selection, 4) motivation, and 5) systems and processes for implementation.
The context in which executives operate evolves constantly, of course, but the core tasks don’t. Maybe you’d want to tone down or take out the “command” part, and drop in “coaching” or “mentoring”—such contemporary ideas!—but the other activities are as valid today as they were 90 years ago. All of them have to do with the same critical job: getting results through people.
Now look at the practice of management—in other words, how those things get done. Here, too, it’s more of the same.
It’s sobering to note, for example, that General Motors introduced a bonus plan for managers as far back as 1918. According to Alfred Sloan, this “had an important effect in creating an identity of interest between management and shareholders.” But he understood—as many of today’s managers seem not to—that there was more to motivation than money. After a colleague wrote to him, saying, “The potential rewards of the Bonus Plan to ego satisfaction generate a tremendous driving force within the Corporation,” Sloan commented that this was reinforced by “a fairly general practice of having each recipient’s supervisor deliver the bonus notification letter.” (My italics.)
Sloan was concerned about his other employees too. In the 1920s the car giant provided not only first-rate medical services, fine cafeterias, locker rooms, showers, and parking for employees, but also group life insurance, a savings and investment plan, recreational facilities, payments for suggestions, training, and opportunities for handicapped workers. All thoroughly modern practices.
It’s equally sobering to recall that 50 years ago Hewlett-Packard introduced management by objectives (MBO), “management by walking around” (MBWA), company picnics, employee share ownership, small divisions, and many other managerial innovations now regarded as state of the art in “progressive” workplaces.
Or consider the astonishing lack of headway in growing leaders for tomorrow. Executives complain about a dearth of skills, and know their future hinges on building their “leadership pipeline.” So this is no trivial matter. But few of them do much about it. And those that make an effort go about it in much the same ways as it’s always been done.
“Internal development was the norm back in the 1950s,” writes Wharton School professor Peter Capelli in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “and every management practice that seems novel today was commonplace in those years—from executive coaching to 360-degree feedback to job rotation to high-potential programs.”
Similar examples are to be found in every other area of people management. There’s plenty of bragging about thought leadership in this area, but scant evidence of it. There are constant exhortations to do things differently, but little hint of what that might mean and hardly any new action to speak of.
So don’t get too excited about apparent breakthroughs. They’re few and far between. When they do come along, they usually don’t get widely adopted—or only after a long delay. And besides, the value of most of them may not be clear-cut.
Extracted from What’s Wrong With Management and How to Get It Right by Tony Manning (Penguin)