In his review of Peter Senge’s 1990 management classic, The Fifth Discipline1, Professor W. Edwards Deming wrote:
Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers – a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars – and on up through the university.
On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.
The truth is that in every sector in every country in the world, the Presidents, CEOs, Ministers, Policy Czars, and high-level public officials are stuck in the ‘prevailing system of management’.
Nor would it help if they all went off to a world-famous business school and got themselves MBAs. Many of them have done that already but what they have learnt at a business school could well make them even worse managers.
Dr. Deming was just one of the leading management thinkers who have been trying to tell us for some time2 that Business Schools are producing a global managerial class that is doing enormous harm to our societies and to the world at large. H. Thomas Johnson, Professor of Business Administration at Portland State University, Oregon, introduces his Management Course 401 AMI, as follows:3
… in the past sixty years, an elite caste of managers has succeeded in replacing responsible management practice and thinking with “management from hell.”
The phrase ‘management from hell’ will resonate in every sector of society and at every level of government in every country in the world. If we are to escape the death-grip of neoliberalism, our societies must consign ‘management from hell‘ to the past. Our leaders and active citizens will have to learn the Super-Smarts that will enable to deal competently with the massively complex and unpredictable messes that neoliberalism will bequeath us.
Managers from hell to create organisations that are pyramids of top-down functional hierarchies. They make decisions and try to implement them through dysfunctional over-centralisation: using budgets, targets, procedures, rules, specifications, inspection and standards to control and direct the workers who will actually do the work.
In systems terms, by applying those concepts and methodologies to tackle the ‘messes’ that beset all complex organisations, all forms of through dysfunctional over-centralisation are bound to fail.
In Freirean terms, operating within this oppressively monological paradigm inevitably leads the people involved to retreat into silence, resignation, fear and mistrust.
As for the managers from hell themselves, they are only able to sustain the illusion of personal omnipotence by shifting the blame for their organisations’ failures onto their subordinates, the Trade Unions, or the Government perhaps.
By contrast, leaders who have acquired an ensemble of Super-Smarts are, in effect liberating their colleagues and subordinates, the organisation as a system and themselves, from silence, fear, mistrust and oppression..
At the same time, their Super-Smarts will enable them to adopt thighly participative approaches to the 21st Century’s most daunting ‘messes’ : global warming, drug-related an corporate crime, improving health, education, penal and police services, over-population, migration, pollution, deforestation, desertification, income and wealth inequalities, to name but a few.
1 Peter Senge, P 2006 ‘The Fifth Discipline’ Random House Business Books.
2 Notably, Simon Caulkin, Henry Mintzberg, John Seddon, H.Thomas Johnson, Margaret Wheatley, Steve Denning, Robert Locke and J.G. Spender, Aaron Anderson, Kenneth and Gilbert Hopper.
3 The Rise of Managerialism and the Decline of Responsible Management in American Business since 1945 .Management 410 AM1 .Summer 2012.