Alice Barber Stephens (1910). Illustration to "Way to Peace" by Deland, Harpers-09

"Management" Isn’t a Curse Word

Forrest Christian Careers, Managing 6 Comments

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)

Comments 6

  1. Hay Forrest,
    I just got hold of Warren Kinston and Ralph Rowbottom’s “A New Model of Managing Based on Levels of Work,” Journal of Applied Systems Analysis,” Volume 17, 1990. It gave me an answer that the work levels associated with each stratum left out. That was the team work that must also occur to integrate the various layers.

    I sent it to a friend who is good at systems. Here is his response: “This article is a thing of beauty – thank you for sharing it. This is good
    enough to give me Goosebumps. ”

    Thank you Warren and Ralph.

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    Great cite, Glenn! That’s a difficult article to find: like most Systems Research articles, it barely appears in citation indices and is in no full-text database that I was able to find, including Questia and ProQuest. (You can purchase the entire 18 year run for around US$900 and it may be available in the back issue house for libraries.)

    But someone was kind enough to send me a copy, which I’ve duly OCRed into a searchable PDF and added it to my Kinston database in DEVONthink. Thank you, anonymous donor!

    The article is an early description of the various groupings between levels that forms the basis of many of the diagrams in Kinston’s Working With Values. I’ll post an example page in the next few days so that you can get a feel for it.

    These groupings imply a lot more than you can get from the article. Out of them spring a number of other relationships, again the general forms of which are detailed in WWV. It’s really quite impressive. Even more so when you start fooling with them because they seem to hold up under pressure.

    Note that the work levels are the same as Jaques found in his work at Glacier Metal Company. They are not the 7 Languages of Achievement, and are only related to them by a shared number.

    Or at least I think so. I’ll have to ponder that. Because you would think that while you can be a Pragmatist at any level, a Level 3 Systemicist organization would be an odd thing to find.

    Quick aside: Rowbotton has been called the smartest one over at BIOSS (including Jaques) and the glue that held them all together. You’ll never go wrong by looking at his books and articles, some of which are available at the GO Society website.

  3. Jaques advocated setting context involving three strata. This provides an opportunity for teamwork. It has also been asserted that subordinates should be expected to work with and collaborate with their peers in order to achieve the outputs their manager is accountable for.

    Elliott loathed the concept of group dynamics with respect to a requisite organization however having been involved in both there is an inspiring quality associated with group dynamics that offers some potential to the workplace. There may be more to reaching one’s full potential capability than merely a work assignment that allows an individual to apply his or her full cognitive capability in association with acquired skills and knowledge to a work task.

    Human beings are emotional social beings and these needs are significant in one’s overall level of satisfaction and motivation. We need to be willing to entertain the axis where logic meets emotion and the effects this has on one’s personal effectiveness.

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