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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.