I’ve been extolling the wonders of Warren Kinston’s Strengthening the Management Culture (SMC) for the past few months. It’s not the equal of his meatier Working With Values: The Software of the Mind but has the virtue of being one fifth that tome’s length. (It’s really thick: there’s just so much in it.)
One of the complaints I’ve been hearing is that it’s hard to get beyond the idea that “management” means something bad:
The problem is that as soon as I see the word “management,” I think of cubicles, blue-gray carpet, and fluorescent lights, and my eyes glaze over.
The title doesn’t translate across the ocean. Or maybe outside of the CEOs for whom he wrote it. A better title would be Growing Your Company Culture.
But let’s deal with the issue of “management”.
People who have not been working in a requisitely organized group often feel this way. To them, managers are Evil Bosses. They’re not really evil, but they are extremely discouraging to work with because they never understand. Because, well, they can’t: you keep doing work that is too big for your role. And contrary to what management consultants will tell you, the evidence is clearly on the side of “managers don’t see overperformance”.
I’ve been talking about this problem with being too big for your manager for years now. It’s a real phenomenon and can lead to debilitating psychological illness. Stress takes it toll.
If real management is about context, then why would it be hard to swallow? Y’all’s comments on this site indicate that there is a lot of people who would enjoy more appropriate context and don’t get it from their managers. Who would want management that doesn’t add value?
I’m not a fan of command and control, and for the domain of work I’m in it clearly doesn’t work. Even Elliott Jaques, the man who discovered what I call the Law of the Real Boss, noted that at higher levels the idea of a boss deteriorates. He noted that when you get to the Executive level (at his Level 5, which many organizations never get to anyway) the relationships are more collegial than manager-subordinate.
He also noted that employment in many places is non-hierarchical. Tenured professors in universities, partners in law firms, and doctors in hospitals all work in a non-hierarchical environment. There is no manager and if you try to implement a management hierarchy not only will the members chafe but it simply won’t work.
Kinston has argued in an unpublished paper that some thinking work domains should be managed more like the collegial atmosphere of universities and research labs. But even there you have context being provided or created by people at higher levels of thinking.
And that’s “management”.
Management must be appropriate for the work level and the work domain. But unless you start with the right level of work being done by your boss, you’re never going to understand it because you’re always going to feel over-managed.
Image Credit: Magazine illustration by Alice Barber Stephens (1910)