Sunday, 15 June 2014

Two ideas that go together well

Bosses, who needs 'em?

That was what they were wondering at Slate, whilst at they were reporting on research that shows that happy workers are more productive. However, one of their conclusions is that “The main reason why people become unhappy and thus unproductive at work is their line manager.”

So if, as they reason in the Slate article,
More layers of management means paying more workers, and generally at higher salaries. It means introducing inefficiency, as each decision gets slowly passed up the chain for approval. In a hierarchical organization, decisions get made at the top of that chain by the people with the least connection to the facts on the ground. Meanwhile, the folks at the bottom, in the heart of the action, feel no agency over their work.
Why not get rid of management and make people happier and more productive in the process?

Added to the fact that that in many organisations, the only route to advancement and higher salary is entry into management, with the result that workers who are good at their job are rewarded by stopping them doing it and giving them something else to do, management, which they might well be and often are, pretty mediocre at doing, the case for doing away with, or at least, severely cutting back on management, looks pretty good. But, as they point out in the Slate article, who would be responsible for getting rid of management? The answer is other managers, who presumably don't see their own role in a similar light.


Shiney said...


Mark Wadsworth said...


Sackerson said...

Think your points are non-trivial.

The Stigler said...

I've seen what happens when managers of software teams sit back and let the developers pretty much manage themselves. It's a catastrophe - the developers just play around with lots of new technology, build over-complicated expensive solutions, and everyone in the team does things their way, meaning no-one can pick up other people's work.

Which doesn't mean that you want a control freak, but you do need some control.

DBC Reed said...

Damn right. I used, at one time, to work in Education which had a military-style hierarchy where the only way to get any promotion was to quit the classroom for a life of admin.
Whilst working in shops and factories ,my personal experience was that the line management was just passing on information often inaccurately.
I would have thought computerised work stations would have made this role redundant. But, of course, technological redundancy only affects the proles.
Tell you the truth most workers know what they are doing and line managers just go round demoralising people and interfering to prove they exist.
The persistence of managers in both capitalism and communism proves the point of the old book The Managerial Revolution whose author I cannot remember.
Anyway the British cannot organise anything without a significant component of bullying.

Bayard said...

"but you do need some control"

But that control doesn't have to come from a heirarchical system. Even if you do have a heirarchy, there is nothing to say that the controllers have to be above the controlled, or get paid more than them.

DBCR, AFAICS, one of the main problems with management in Britain is that few British can get away from the feudal mindset which says that if I am giving you instructions, then I am your superior. It is a concept embedded in the language itself.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of some interesting thoughts and references to earlier studies on just this subject only a few months back on 'Flip Chart Fairy Tales' here and here. Needless to say, he comes down in favour of hierarchy.

"Removing hierarchy can lead to competition between competing groups. People jostle to create a new hierarchy with themselves at the top. I have worked in organisations during interregnums. They are strange places. The barons do as they please, as they did in medieval Europe when kings were weak. The hierarchies they create are often more dysfunctional than the top down ones they replaced."

Anonymous said...

I think most managers go wrong because they think their job is to manage people, whereas in most cases it’s to manage functions and processes. The difference sometimes seems subtle, but it’s a fundamentally different mindset.

James Higham said...

Think there's a difference between a boss who earns a modest amount and coordinates plus heavily inputs on direction ... and someone who is on obscene money and who likes to rule.

The Stigler said...


"But that control doesn't have to come from a heirarchical system. "

What's your alternative to that?

Bayard said...

TS, well, to take your example of a software company, it's obviously the manager's job to make sure that all the developers are following their brief and to produce that brief in the first place, or else, as you point out, everyone goes off and does things in ways that don't coordinate with each other. Why, however, apart from the fact that we are descended from apes and have primate dominance heirarchies hardwired into our brains, does the man who produces the brief and makes sure everyone sticks to it, have to be heirarchically superior to the ones carrying out what it says on the brief? Why can't they all be effectively equal? If you ask a mate to do something for you and he does it, you wouldn't consider that makes him your inferior, so why does the person who goes around asking people to do things in a company have to be in some way superior to the people he is asking to do things?

Rich Tee said...

The problems are:

1. Management has become an end in itself, an occupation and an art and a science, rather than just a way of organising work. I call this the "cult of management".

2. It has become very personal, much more about how people feel than what they do which I find rather instrusive myself. Why does my supervisor - sorry, "scrum master" - want to know how I feel everyday?

Stigler is right about software, it is far too easy for things to wander, I have seen it myself.

DP said...

Dear Mr Bayard

We have a similar, much larger problem with government.

Perhaps it's largely due to too much time, not enough to do.

A shorter working week and/or longer holidays would help, keeping people productively occupied over fewer hours and creating new business opportunities catering for more leisure time.

Currently those with most leisure have least resources to enjoy it.