Recently I read a newspaper piece called ´Managing? What Nonsense!´ In this article, the writer joins the choir in lamenting the uselessness of managers, stating that the position of manager should be abolished as quickly as possible. According to this writer, managers are not the reason for organizational success at all but, instead, people «following their own sense.» To this, I in turn reply: ‘What utter nonsense!’ because simply trusting your own sense without employing a solid foundation from which to depart is never advisable.
Interestingly enough, the writer first quite correctly states that for many improvement theories “empiric evidence” is lacking that organizations become more productive when they apply such-and-such a theory. He offers examples of the work of Stephen Covey, Philip Kotler and Jim Collins, for which he is correct, there indeed is no evidence to support the idea that their theories will actually work. In some instances, in fact, it has even been scientifically shown that the research underlying these works isn’t valid.
But then this same writer makes a big mistake by equating the application of an improvement method with the act of managing itself. As the improvement method fails, therefore “logically” he assumes, managing also must fail. The writer even goes so far as to state that investing in management will have a negative effect on productivity. And there this writer gets to the core of the problem… but unfortunately then goes in the wrong direction with his reasoning. The problem, you see, is not that there is too much management, the problem is that there isn’t enough good management!
Hierarchy is as old as the way to Rome and this is not for nothing. History has shown that coordinators of work and decision-makers in the case of work bottlenecks have always been needed to smooth the way to efficient operations. These people we now call “managers” …and they are still needed! What matters most is that these managers do their work well, and when this is the case they then indeed contribute to an increase in organizational results.
Good management is only 1 of 5 success factors
My latter statement can be proven via long-term research that I have personally conducted into the factors that make for an excellent organization, a so-called high performance organization or HPO. My study consisted of a five-year literature review and then a practical research among more than 1,470 organizations worldwide. From this research – which to date has been presented at 17 academic conferences and published in 14 scientific journals – five factors turn out to be decisive as to whether an organization can be considered an HPO or not. They are
- management quality
- employee quality,
- an open and action-oriented culture,
- a long-term orientation, and
- a culture of continuous improvement and renewal.
Thus from my extensive HPO research it is clear that organizational excellence not hinges upon the caliber of management but is as well a combination of factors that should all be paid attention to.
These five HPO factors have in the past four years been extensively tested in organizations worldwide, in particular in Europe, USA, Africa and Asia, and time and again they have proven their validity: when organizations work dedicatedly at improving the factors, they will as a result experience much better performance. These results have now been published in my newest book What Makes a High Performance Organization: Five Validated Factors of Competitive Performance That Apply Worldwide. Thus the HPO Framework constitutes what the article writer so ardently desires: an empirical, proven improvement technique that offers organizations all over the world the greatest chance of becoming an HPO. I emphatically say “chance” by the way as no method or technique can guarantee success. Success depends on the degrees of discipline and creativity with which people in an organization apply the HPO framework.
And there is where the article writer is correct: people have to draw upon their own sense – in this case intuition, knowledge and experience – if they are to achieve their own unique way of innovating and improving. But they should do this on a basis of solid scientific research and not haphazardly, on pure feeling. Managing: yes… but in the right manner!
André de Waal MSC MBA PhD is academic director of the HPO Center, the Netherlands, and associate professor HPO of the Maastricht School of Management, the Netherlands. His new book is titled What Makes a High Performance Organisation, Five Validated Factors of Competitive Advantage that Apply Worldwide (Global Professional Publishing, 2012). André’s latest book is available at Amazon.com!
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