There is an on-going debate about the need for senior professionals to become more business aware. The idea being that this would widen their view of the professional context and increase understanding of the real purpose of corporate strategy. There are many ways that this can be achieved.
For example IT professionals should study biology and learn to play music, that way they would begin to understand complex systems, social workers would benefit from a grounding in hard sciences and logic, while psychiatrists and accountants should just get out more! It is certainly important for people to develop multiple perspectives of the world. In my view a major source of human problems is attachment to a single viewpoint, which becomes elevated to the status of religion, and can not be questionned.
Like many good ideas this one has been misunderstood and extended, so that an entailement has developed which says that 'management' is professionally agnostic and is a context free discipline in it's own right. It is not uncommon for instance to find non-IT professionals positioned as IT directors, with many subtle but disastrous consequences. One of the UK's major Departments of State made an accountant it's IT Director a little while ago, and proceeded to place him in charge of a multi-billion pound out-sourcing contract. While the accountant could count how many beans would be saved by making people redundant, he had absolutely no idea about how large IT projects work.
This discipline-free approach to management has reared it's head in the UK Police Service, where there is a current debate underway about whether or not a Chief Constable should come from the ranks of the police. One argument is that a police force is just like a commercial activity, with a large financial turnover and thousands of employees. The problem with this argument is that it is just plain wrong. A police force is not in it for money! It does not sell things, it is not in competition with other police forces (or should not be), the public at large are not clients and I doubt very much whether the criminal community see themselves as customers.
A good policeman knows his business: knows how to lead, inspire, manage and account for his team. I know a very senior Deputy Chief Constable who spends every Christmas Day visiting his officers while they are on duty - it is not written into his job spec. but I think I know why he does it, do you?
A senior police officer will have accumulated many years worth of hard earned wisdom and paid for it with emotional and experiential scar tissue. He or she will have developed instincts and a nose for solutions that can not be taught in a management class. But the reverse is not true. With appropriate coaching and mentoring, that same police officer could quickly get up to speed on the latest management thinking. Management is not rocket science – (but then, nor is rocket science).
The myth which has arisen is that management is important for it's own sake. Thus we have managers with a raft of management qualifications – who don't know the business. It is as though there is a movement to depersonalise and dehumanise business. This movement treats business just like a machine, in which people are the cogs. All management does is pull the right levers, press the appropriate buttons and read the latest reports.
This makes management more remote from the people doing the actual work: they are no longer living, breathing human beings with families, cares, mortgages and weaknesses. They are now parts of the machine that can be made redundant in pursuit of cost savings. The more remote they are, the easier it is to run the business 'efficiently'.
The problem is that this de-personalised view of business misses the point. Real business is a dynamic, vibrant, deal-making product of human social interactions. Business processes, equipment and ICT systems are only costs until some human being adds value through usage. It is people who are innovative and creative, not the systems. The trouble is that people are also imperfect, error prone and ultimately uncontrollable. They will never work like machines (thank goodness).
Good managers treat machines clinically and humans humanely. Bad managers do not know the difference.
Posted by Nicholas Moore 12:52:02 am