In The Puritan Gift the Hopper boys do a great job of explaining the origins of business schools and the increasingly obvious folly of the concept of the ‘professional manager’. When the business schools were first conceived many doubted that a generic body of knowledge that could be called ‘management’ even existed, and if the better idea was to have business schools structured as a collection of industry-focused courses – instead of majoring in accounting, marketing, operations you would major in banking, railroads or retailing, for instance. The wrong side won.
For over a hundred years the experts have been researching, refining and teaching as though there is one best way to manage – the ideal organizational structure, critical metrics, core financial statements, the best way to plan and execute the supply chain. What a colossal waste of brain cells pursuing something that is foolish to believe exists, or ever could exist.
Organizing around functions with a hierarchical command and control structure has its origins in the military or in railroads, depending on who you listen to. You have to wonder by what absurd leap in logic anyone would conclude that an organization – or anything else for that matter – that works in those environments is appropriate for a metal working company with 150 employees all in one building.
Why on earth would anyone think that an MRP system that might work for an auto maker – a handful of products each with thousands of components – is in any way shape or form the right thing to use when scheduling a consumer products factory with hundreds of SKU’s each made up of a handful of components? Why should a machine intensive business care about labor efficiency, or a labor intensive business acre about OEE?
What fool thinks monthly and quarterly financial statements are universally useful, no matter whether the company is making T shirts or battleships, or if it is selling insurance policies for that matter?
The litany of monkey-see monkey-do pursuit of fads is nothing more than the mindless pursuit of non-existent management schemes … some company deploys some unique idea and makes a lot of money … therefore every company should implement that idea in precisely the same way and become equally successful.
There is an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal describing flat organizations and “bossless” companies, such as WL Gore. Should your company do the same thing? Some variation might make sense, but doing something just because it works for WL Gore is just as inane as mindlessly clinging to a functional, hirrarchical organization because some business school professor demonstrated that it worked in the railroad industry a hundred years ago.
Management is tough stuff and it is the key driver of success or failure. The best managed competitor wins. It is not something that can be taken verbatim from a book, a seminar or a business school class. It can’t be cloned
Deciding how to organize, plan and measure the business is what managers get paid the big bucks to do. The default management model is not the traditional business school approach – to be clung to until someone provides overwhelming evidence of the superiority of another approach. The default is, in fact, a blank sheet of paper, to be filled in by leaders and executives who really understand their business.