Demystifying Management

Al Gorman Governance, Managing, Theory Leave a Comment

Al Gorman

What exactly is management and how do we provide for its effectiveness? The thought of navigating through the labyrinth of attributes, formulae and competencies being offered today is both a challenge and confusing. The evolution of modern management appears to be a myriad of trial and error and the very notion of what contributes to, or detracts from, the success of organizations is left to be magical and mystical.

Pick up a hundred different publications and you are apt to be presented a hundred different potential solutions defining what exactly is required in order to make a company great. Some tout the significance of distinguishing leadership from management; conjuring up images that leadership is inspiring and charismatic, empowering and engaging, while management is mundane, boring, autocratic and passé. Similar reactions arise out of conversations regarding organizational structure and management systems on the one hand and self organizing teams on the other that are created for the purpose of being creative and establishing within them a dynamic that super-charges the workplace.

Pick up any human resources publication and you are apt to find the secret ingredients for success. These are generally presented as some variation of David Letterman’s famed top ten list. The top ten qualities, nine pitfalls to avoid, seven deadly sins, nine core competencies, and the list continues. What are human resource and line managers to do in light of this virtual maze, in confronting the effectiveness of their organizations and the impact that less than fully functional companies have on their employees and their shareholders?

During the recent management era publications cite the necessity for emotional intelligence as a core competency for managers operating within organizations or “EQ” as opposed to “IQ” (representing intellectual quotient). Emotional competency has become big business for consultants in the human resource field, as has the entire notion of leadership attributes and inspirational workplaces. Many companies are drawn to the value associated with a group dynamics approach to managing organizations and are left spent when these teams become consumed by conflict, alas giving rise to the significance within the organizational development field of adopting conflict resolution as a distinct and essential tool to be available within the diversified toolbox of every manager. While attempting to define the virtues required by a leader today in order to inspire effectiveness within one’s organization common core competencies are summarized to include efficiency, initiative, risk taking, integrity, effectiveness, being results oriented, political savvy, trust builder, and decisiveness coupled with good judgment, among literally hundreds of potential qualities.

The interesting thing is that we don’t often receive any tangible insight into how these attributes are developed, assuming of course that one can develop them. Are leaders developed or are they born with their leadership qualities? Certainly if we search long enough I suspect we will find both ten reasons why leadership is developed and ten reasons why leadership is genetically inherent and determined at birth. As we drudge through this endless realm of possibilities we might consider for a moment that many of the ingredients that we are tossing into the management mix add to the confusion and assist in the perplexity created which has many organizations in their current ineffective state, enabling both the creation of dysfunctional structures and systems and the human behaviors that accompany them. Recognizing that most individuals within the North American democratic society work for a living we might also consider the significance of functional or dysfunctional organizations on the broader society.

Although perhaps mundane and unattractive the success of an organization can be distinguished by its ability to structure itself in a manner that permits the effectiveness of its people in the execution of the work aided by supporting systems that ensure that the organization succeeds at delivering its objectives. This then assumes that the organization has a purpose, a vision that is compelling for the people who are employed within it, and that the purpose is translated into a strategic plan, (that preferably has some useful purpose for society), and that the employees throughout the organization understand and can align with this contextual purpose. Granted it should be easy enough to convince the chief executives of corporations that this is essential and expectedly would not be met with much resistance. Thus, where do we go from here? It is agreed that workplaces, and the relationships that are essential at work configure these structures as social entities and that certain social behaviors are essential and others perhaps detrimental to the effectiveness and capability of the organization. It is here that companies begin their trek into ambiguity. Some sponsor leadership and team building ventures that have the executive management team out white water rafting or mountain climbing for the purpose of consolidating the team and others provide elixirs and potions of a different variety.

The success of an organization much to the dismay of the snake oil salesmen will be borne out of its ability to develop effective systems within a functional hierarchical structure while adopting consistent managerial practices that ensure the employees executing the organization’s plans are effective in doing so. This is the essence of what the late Elliott Jaques dedicated his career and his life to. Jaques’ life work, which among other developments coined the phrase “mid-life crisis”, became centered on structure and managerial practices as the key to organizational success, dismissing group dynamics and references to leadership attributes as alchemy. He has defined for organizations a science with respect to organizational effectiveness, though often met with resistance and controversy. Certainly when arguing that there are felt fair pay expectations that fit with the time span of discretion and complexity of roles and that output based incentives serve no useful purpose within the compensation systems in business, he has been viewed as a zealot and a radical by many. Within North America we seem to abhor anything remotely scientific in the field of organizational development. W. Edwards Deming’s statistical control work although endeared by Japanese business for decades has only recently attracted any real attention within North America and for most line managers it is easier to have a discussion about process efficiency and control than it is to broach the topic of people in creating capable organizations. After all it is people who operate these processes.

If we were willing to entertain for a moment that there is something significant in what Dr. Jaques observed working in excess of fifty years with organizations we might begin to clear up the confusion and dispense with the smoke and mirrors that are hindering the productive and profitable growth of corporations throughout North America and the globe. In answering whether leadership qualities are inherent or acquired Jaques certainly would respond “well both of course”.

According to Jaques’ research each one of us is born with inherent and predetermined cognitive capability that defines the complexity with which we are able to process information and that this complexity of mental processing (or CMP) develops in a predictable and certain maturation pattern. This understanding becomes essential when attempting to assemble the organization’s talent pool for the purpose of succession planning and training and development. Also significant in defining one’s capability in assuming a role are skills and knowledge, thus the development of leaders. He would qualify nonetheless that there is no distinction between a manager and a leader and that the term ought to be referenced as managerial leadership. From the understanding of potential capability one can begin to structure the organization in a manner where the manager and subordinate role relationships add value because the manager is operating with CMP distinctly one level above that of the subordinate. Jaques’ work appreciates the essential need associated with a trust enhancing organization and shared values that are both manifested within managerial systems and practices that he defines as being “requisite” in nature. These include setting proper context, planning, hiring and induction, coaching and providing personal effectiveness feedback, mentoring, succession planning, de-selection and dismissal, and several others. He also sees benefit in project teams where there is a clear purpose and context and where the assignment is clear in terms of the deliverable outcomes.

Could it be that some of those who are offering snake oil to organizations and “easy bake” solutions are simply not capable, in terms of CMP, of distinguishing the associated value and need related to hierarchy and a systematic approach to management? Perhaps, and others clearly are and have yet to realize that anything of importance is available today, save perhaps this substantial body of work provided by Elliott Jaques that is specifically focused on the social effectiveness of organizations offering, at least in the author’s view, a better proposition.

About the Author

Al Gorman

Al believes: “Every individual’s life experience deserves to be enriched with the opportunity, at work and within society, to reach all that he or she is capable of!”

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: