Monday, 9 July 2012


Evolutionary managerialism - our current situation as a development of past bad habits

The wikipedia entry for managerialism is pretty good. It cites a definition by Robert R Locke.
"What occurs when a special group, called management, ensconces itself systemically in an organization and deprives owners and employees of their decision-making power (including the distribution of emolument), and justifies that takeover on the grounds of the managing group's education and exclusive possession of the codified bodies of knowledge and know-how necessary to the efficient running of the organization."
Locke's principal writing on the topic seems to be here, as 'Managerialism and the Demise of the Big Three' (pdf), and the book 'Confronting Managerialism'. The Big Three are the US automobile makers, and their demise is seen as being brought about by the Japanese management approach. Locke lays blame at the door of of neoclassical economics and  business school teaching.

This view of managerialism has strong precursors. Pfeffer and Sutton have pointed out the problems of US MBAs, what and how they teach. Mintzberg's  'Strategy Safari' has an account of the demise of the British motorcycle industry and Honda's success, including this quote from Hopwood:
"In the early 1960s the Chief Executive of a world famous group of management consultants tried hard to convince me that it is ideal that top level management executives should have as little knowledge as possible relative to the product. This great man really believed that this qualification enabled them to deal efficiently with all business matters in a detached and uninhibited way."
This ideal sounds like a job description of a UK generalist civil servant - still not dead 44 years after Fulton. Rory Stewart has written about managerialism in a number of public organizations e.g.  here and here.

A proper 21st Century dystopian view of managerialism as an entity in itself

Bruce Sterling has given a good description of a dystopian future as  'favela chic', a talk beautifully visualised here.  The connections between science fiction dystopia and collapsonomics are all too realistic for comfort.

The full horrors of managerialism as embodied in current global corporate capitalism have been captured in contemporary language by Rao, as 'The Gervais Principle', which starts with one of my favourite Hugh McLeod cartoons. The life cycle diagram seems to map well onto the more traditional life cycle at Adizes.

Rao's Guerilla Guide to Social Business is also available for download and is bang on the money. It includes a wonderful take on KM.

Managerialism and safety management

Managerialism appears to have penetrated safety management. One consequence is a concentration on hazards that are easily managed, at the expense of systemic hazards that require a resilient, learning, sensemaking approach. The sensemaking approach is set out in the 'The Learning School' in Mintzberg, or Weick and Sutcliffe (this link takes you to a great resource on High Reliability Organizations) and their book.

Managerialism in a safety context has been parodied all too accurately  by The Daily Mash here.

In a safety management context, managerialism looks deceptively innocent. The diagrams below look fine at first sight. Everything is organized. That is the problem. Being organized is vital, but it is not enough. Where, on these diagrams, can we find crew input, sensemaking, informal learning, trying things out? Not in 'the system'. This is the most difficult challenge facing the move to resilience.

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