trust – tolerance – self-sufficiency

Management is not normally considered a political matter, but with the Government increasingly interfering with the day-to-day running of many of our public institutions and burdening the private sector with endless regulation, it must become one.  All the more so as the net effect of the Government’s efforts has been the emergence of a ‘manageocracy’, often vicious and incompetent and massively overpaid, resulting in bureaucratic and bullying management systems in almost all public services.  (Apart from being loathsome and completely inexcusable in its own right, bullying is directly responsible for much stress-related illness, and as such places a burden on the rest of society.)

Most of this stems from the Government’s example of short term thinking and blame-seeking, aggravated by the fundamental misconception that management is a profession in its own right.  In reality, the manager of a sheet metal factory is unlikely to be able to manage a corner shop particularly well, or a prison manager a hospital, and where individuals are promoted outside their ability, bad management is almost inevitable. ‘Fast tracking’ is another bastard child of this kind of thinking – we move through our early life in sudden and steep steps: infant school to junior – top to bottom; junior school to senior, senior to university, university to industry – ditto.  Graduates are useless – they have potential but they need to learn their new business and that takes time and the guidance of more experienced heads.

The only people who can run an organization are the people who already run it, and good management accepts and uses this, guiding and encouraging, looking for potential leaders – people with experience in, and a feel for, that business – and teaching them such management techniques as are needed.

People, on the whole, are full of goodwill, and can be trusted.  A minority are shiftless, idle, or incompetent, and we are all idiots from time to time, but few go to work with the intention of doing a bad job.  Blame-seeking supervisory systems, especially those involving pointless and petty record keeping (often ostensibly for ‘quality control’, so-called ‘health and safety’, ‘continuing professional development’ etc), disable employees, crush initiative and shatter morale.  The law of diminishing returns acts very quickly in supervision – you do not become a safe driver when being followed by a police car, you become immediately more dangerous because you are not focusing on your driving.  Plus, we are very crafty at avoiding supervision and once a bureaucratic ‘system’ is in place, it can be ‘played’ by those so inclined.  Put simply, if there is not mutual trust and openness between ‘management’ and ‘workers’ then management is fundamentally at fault and no amount of supervision will make that organization efficient.

A major feature of bad management is the misuse, arguably abuse, of the computer, with its powerful and seductive numerical and organizing abilities.  This has led to the further misconception that the basic values of an organization are those which can be quantified, while the reality is the very opposite.  A box ticked is not a job done, a target set is not a problem solved, and attending meetings and then writing about them is not ‘working’.  The real values within a company lie in the interactions of its employees and customers.  These are not only vital, they are also subtle and intangible.  Not only can they not be quantified, any attempt to do so is doomed to failure and likely to be highly destructive.

Other hallmarks of bad management are psychometric testing during interviews (we’re too dim to pick our own staff), performance indicators, peer review ‘schemes’, continuing professional development ‘schemes’ (all pointless computer box-ticking), ‘Human Resources’ departments rather than ‘Personnel’ etc, (euphemisms in preference to reality), logo hunting for the letterhead (some committee knows our business better than we do), so-called ‘just in time’ stock schemes (disasters waiting to happen), general use of pompous jargon, and perhaps the worst indicator of all, the use of ‘management consultants’ (we’re too dim even to run our own business).

Good management, by contrast, moves about, knows its staff and what they do. When you make a mistake you can go straight to your boss knowing confidently that he will say, ‘OK, let’s see what we can do about this’.  At the worst, when you have laid a real egg, or the same one twice, he will work out with you how you might be better trained or perhaps moved to a position more suited to you.

Proposals for reforms to public institutions should emphasize the need to pass autonomy as near to the ‘shop floor’ as possible, and all parts of every bureaucracy should be subjected to the most rigorous justification tests.

‘Whistle blowers’ should be encouraged and properly protected in both the private and public sectors.