Reinventing Management

 By Julian Birkinshaw

What is the future of management? Can management be reinvented to make it more effective as an agent of economic progress and more responsive to the needs of employees?

When you ask children what they want to be when they are older, how many of them say they want to be a manager? I’ve certainly never met one who had such aspirations. In part this is because management is a pretty amorphous concept to a ten-year-old. But it’s also because we adults aren’t exactly singing the praises of the management profession either. For example, in a 2008 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics among workers in 21 different professions, a mere 12 percent of respondents felt business executives had high/very high integrity – an all-time low. With a 37 percent low/very low rating, the executives came in behind lawyers, union leaders, real estate agents, building contractors, and bankers. Moreover, there are no positive role models out there either – the reason why Dilbert is the best-selling business book series of all time, and why Ricky Gervais’ sitcom “The Office” was a big hit, is because they ring true. The Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert is a self-centered halfwit; David Brent is entirely lacking in self-awareness. If these are the figures that come into people’s minds when the word “manager” is used, then we have a serious problem on our hands.

What should we do about this? Some observers would like us to get rid of the word manager altogether, favouring terms like leader, coach and entrepreneur. But I believe a more useful approach is to reinvent management – to go back to first principles, and recapture the spirit of what management is all about. We need to help executives figure out the best way to manage, and we need to help employees to get the managers they deserve.

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