donderdag 10 januari 2013

Bullshit Management

Today I would like to share my book review of Bullshit Management: Return to the essence of organisations by Jos Verveen (The Hague, Academic Service, 2011). Why more than a year after publishing? Well, the simple answer is that I have just recently started this blog, but I really feel this book deserves your attention.

Bullshit Management busts the ubiquitous myth that investing in management pays off. It reads unfettered criticism, disputing any proof of a scientific blue print for success, even questioning well-established theories of Taylor and Mayo. Moreover: due to all these models, methods and terminologies, more and more organisation are losing sight of their essence. This book calls for abandonment of management and urges organisations to take matters into own hands again. While products and services prove distinctive quality of organisations, the best way to organize is unprecedented for as well. According to Verveen, you would anyhow not need a management book for that.

Paradoxically, whereas the writer critically questions the usefulness of models, theories, systems, structures and terminologies, his book went management book besteller in The Netherlands. To my knowledge there is no English edition yet, so my Anglo-Saxon followers unfortunately have to settle for this post, for now.

The Essence of an Organisation
I recently came across the following Tweets:
"Business is about creating value. Making money is just a pleasant sideproduct."
"Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done."

These are just two posts of many that I have seen and read, instigating critical review of management as a concept. Verveen builds his case around experiences he has gathered during his former career as business consultant. In his book, he claims that business management is characterised by continuous efficiency reviews whilst overlooking the essence of an organisation, which does not equal 'managing'.

"The essence of an organisation stands far from the goal of business management which is profit maximisation by increasing the productivity. The essence has therefore also nothing to do with finding an optimal strategy to obtain high productivity. Neither does the essence equal the effort of designing the organisation in the most efficient way to implement that strategy. An organisation has not originated, grown and survived due to management, but only by holding on to its core essence. Each step away from this essence opens the door for building an organisational 'house of cards' which needs management, a lot of management, to keep it straight. A house increasingly filled with people questioning themselves what it exactly is they are doing there."

A Vicious Circle
Recent U.S. gun control debates somewhat got me drawing a parallel between gun lobbyists and management disciples. They both claim to have the solution for a problem what according to others is the root problem in itself. And both advocate for even more of it when the soup hits the fan. Of course the impact of guns cannot be compared with that of management, though in the wrong hands, both can have dramatic social consequences.

If not already by the title of this post, then surely at this point in the text I must have upset some business school graduates. For some, management is a religion. But let me just ask those readers the following then:

According to you, what motivates people to work?
Certainly not management, right?

And according to you, what makes people engage to dreams bigger than their own?
I suspect few would answer 'management' here as well.

Lastly, according to you, what keeps people focused on creating value?

Yet with any sign that motivation, purpose or focus is lacking, we immediately seek to gain control by management. The irony is that management distracts people further from what should give them motivation, purpose or focus, perpetually clouding the essence of the organisation. A vicious circle indeed.

Return to The Essence
The solution this book offers to break the circle is quite obviously to seek that essence again. To stop organising work around peripherals and to start organising it around that what truly matters, what we feel will create value. His case continues even deeper by arguing that management and its goals, productivity and profitability, have poisoned our economies, and some businesses may find that there is actually no value in what they produce.

Verveen envisions a society that revolves around an economy with equal distribution of scarce resources in which true enterpreneurs and professionals bring genuine value while following their actual talents (see also The War for Talent Hoax). A Dutch politician has recently disputed that the current crisis could be solved with economical growth, arguing that economical growth is in fact the cause of this crisis. Maybe the crisis will lead us to a world closer to Verveen's vision...

My lessons learnt from this book: There is no blue print for success, but hard work, common sense and the ambition to bring genuine value will likely give you a head start on your competition.

For those (Dutch readers) who have read it, feel free to leave your review in the comments below. For the others, you can find Jos Verveen (@josverveen) on Twitter and ask him personally to publish an English translation.

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