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By Anthony Wooding, ASM Associate, retired solicitor and law lecturer.

Introduction: Anthony is co-author of a book about management with Dave Ladbrook.  The impetus and unique selling point for the book is that Dave has been ‘managed’ all his working life whereas Anthony has had significant management experience, successfully running a law firm.  This means that, compared to many ‘management guru’ and ‘self-success’ accounts, the book has a more objectively balanced analysis of management as it utilises the twin perspective of ‘managed’ and ‘manager’.  Pending publication of the book and with Dave’s kind permission, Anthony has granted ASM Plus the exclusive right to preview extracts from the book, starting with this piece which considers the notion of “management”. Comments will be warmly received either by readers sending an e-mail to ASM Plus or via social media.

You might be surprised that I pose the question “Should management exist?” But other people do, very seriously. In his bestseller, ‘Drive’, Daniel Pink, for one, says: “Management isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.” (p. 92)

Phrased another way: is no management better than any management, whether good or not?

Further, there is a different but related question, to which there may be a different answer: is no management at least better than bad management?

To consider the first question posed: Pink argues that we should encourage set-ups where we are “players, not pawns”. He adds:

“We forget sometimes that ‘management’ does not emanate from nature. It’s not like a tree or river. It’s like a television or a bicycle. It’s something that humans have invented.” (p.92)

Setting aside that management does occur in nature – think of a gorilla group with a silverback, or a hive with a queen bee – it is significant that Pink cites ‘old technology’ inventions here. The implication being that they can be superseded. He doesn’t cite, say, the iPhone, for instance, but of course (as I hope he would agree) eventually that it will be superseded too, as a new revolutionary innovation comes along. And that actually neatly brings us to a key point in an existential consideration of management.

The entrepreneurs and writers (sometimes they are both) who put forward, to a greater or lesser degree, an ‘anti-management’ agenda, often either run or observe successful hi-tech industries. The entrepreneurs themselves are often called – indeed, call themselves – the ‘disrupters’. Of course, they employ people and many have good employment packages (although, as an aside, it is often their business plan to see human resource replaced by a robotic or AI – which sets up a whole series of other major considerations for the future which I will address in later blogs). But what matters to them greatly is for their employees to come up with ideas, because innovation in products is key to their continued success and that means their employee engineers being as untrammeled as possible, with little or no formal structure, in order to maximise the possibility of the company coming up with the next exciting idea.

In short, it is well worth their while ‘releasing’ at least some, if not all, of their employees’ time, on the basis that they will think ‘out of the box’ (to use a ghastly cliché) and come up with something amazing. In effect, they are investing/risking thousands or millions of dollars to come up with more millions or billions. Such companies allow their employees ‘free time’ – even if it’s only 20% but often a lot more – when they can do what they want.

It follows that such companies take care not to loosen the grip of other controls outside of management ones, and including legal ones.  As Pink says (without irony):

“Of course, Google doesn’t sign away the intellectual property rights to what’s created during that 20%.”

In his book ‘Capitalism is Dead: Peoplism Rules’, Alec Reed, founder of the eponymous Reed recruitment business, makes a similar thesis to Pink. His business is not hi-tech, but he recognises that the recruitment industry is subject to disruption, and that both the cause and solution will come from hi-tech/online. He is always looking for the next idea in his business. He also, rightly, makes the point that globalisation and the internet (to which we would add social change generally) has meant the loss of traditional hierarchies. At least in the western world, anyone can come up out of the ranks and indeed, many refuse to be in the ranks in the first place.

Reed’s vision doesn’t look like the ‘death of capitalism’: more likely making a different, more random, lot of people very rich and therefore inevitably in some sort of control because of that. Indeed, it seems that it rather amounts to a new capitalism. That is not a political point as to whether capitalism itself is good or bad.   Nor is any socio-economic model determinative of management: socialist and communist models have, after all, more management structure, not less. It is also interesting that Reed is aware that the new ‘Peoplism’ will probably be less generous as the top dogs will come and go more frequently, without inherited structures to secure them, so that philanthropy – a positive feature of capitalism so far, particularly in the United States – may fall off significantly.

Another feature is what is sometimes known as ‘Founder Syndrome’.  It is a popular term for the problems that occur when the passion and drive of the founder of a business, essential to getting it started, becomes a limiting and destructive force as the business grows and, in effect, needs to be managed in some way. Its negative features can be decisions made on the hoof; little planning; internal warring; cronyism. Many of the hi-tech companies which are successful now, started as ideas in bedrooms and garages. It is perhaps natural for founders to assume that because their initial success was because they were ‘rule-free’ that their success can carry on in the same vein.

It is not suggested that as the business develops, all the above traits will necessarily develop. But it is perhaps a little ironic that a feature of this change can be that as the business grows, the founder sometimes exercises too much control! Because, translated into the modern age, control can be of ideas or the means of generating them even, not just the means of production or other more tangible features of business. A disrupter, er… doesn’t always like being disrupted.

For the average services or goods operation, be it providing cleaning services, legal services, medical services, or ‘civil service’, needs management, or, at least, a pretty fair degree of management in order to function well, if at all.

For most operations, management is, or should be the glue that holds the operation together. However, to use another analogy, management is like magnetism: good management is attractive, bad management is, quite literally, repulsive.

In future blogs I aim to address some principles of good management.

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