Thursday, 7 September 2006

Leave the managers alone

I read something rather ill-judged the other day:

Managers do not create wealth; at best, they assist others (workers) to create it; at worst, they not only produce nothing, they are actually, literally counter-productive, imposing time-wasting non-work which impedes productivity by wasting time and energy. There is no opposition between efficiency and justice; on the contrary, an institution run by those who actually do the work is likely to be more effective than one run by interchangeable exploiters who often lack any specific expertise in what they are supposedly managing.

Ignoring for a moment the repetitions and terrible grammar, one is forcefully struck by the sheer imbecilic prejudice of the author. It seems that he has never worked in a team bigger than a handful of people: if he had, he would realise that the jejune Marxist dichotomy between the workers and the owners of the means of production is utterly inappropriate for most contemporary enterprises. While it is easy for those of the doctrinaire left to set up a straw man of capitalism to knock down, it is hardly helpful to the political debate. Many of the them (and yes, George Monbiot, I do mean you too) should take the trouble to find out how corporations work before suggesting how to reform them.

Management, in all but the worst run firms, is not some extraneous layer pasted like marzipan on the solid fruit cake of production: rather it is something most workers do to some extent, the egg whites in the souffle. Successful organisations are open, collaborative, consensual: groups form around an objective; it is achieved; they dissolve. Strategy is evolutionary and co-constructed: it is not imposed by a distant elite on the 'worker'. This isn't just management consultancy B/S -- this is what you have to do to succeed in most industries. Many firms have a lot to do in getting to this area, but criticising them on the basis of a stereotype that is decades out of date is lazy.

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