Over-Management is Overkill - 16th May 2012

How many managers does it take to change a light bulb? How many should it take? Does anybody know?

Good management is the stronghold of our professional organisations, but it is not always clear how is calculated the amount of management that needs to be done to be efficient. Not many business leaders, shareholders and other stakeholders seem to think about it, let alone calculate it.

How much management has gone into my Mars bar or my can of Coke? What is the management percentage of the price I pay on my product? Can we put a figure on that? Probably not, and that is quite bizarre. We don’t know what the ideal figure is; we don’t know what the ideal monetary amount is of your product dedicated management to secure maximum profit, get the best out of your people and keep their stress levels low. When I go to the theatre, how much management has been going on backstage and upstairs and how is that reflected in my ticket price? And when I watch TV, how much managing am I watching? And I wonder if more management has gone into my home delivered bananas or more in the cauliflower that came in the same delivery. Those are fascinating questions but necessary questions. Still I don’t hear them asked. Just a few more questions: in these times of crises and austerity, do leaders and shareholders needing to save money revise the management requirements to make cuts? Do they investigate reorganising management? Or is it just easier to cut bluntly a few floors down where the collars get bluer?

Too Many Managers

Many organisations have too many managers. There is in fact a very understandable source and reason why organisations become top heavy and have too many managers. Certainly state-run companies and not-for-profit organisations tend to show a lot of care for their people. There are many reasons why they don’t just to ditch people. They keep talented people in-house and continue to make good use of their experience and talents. But something doesn’t add up. Correction: It does add up but to a very high number, and that’s a problem. More commercially driven organisations make a selection. In my blog last week on corporate pyramid structures, I described how too much valuable talent gets competed out. In the competition for the small amount of jobs, lots of people have to go. These commercially driven organisations probably see that dynamic as vital part of their money making machine and don’t lose too much sleep over it. There too there is an evolution, however.

When I was a child in the seventies, my father was a manager. He was the only manager in the street. We also had the biggest house in the street. My parents still live in that house. It is still the biggest in the street. But now there is a manager living in almost every other house in the street.

The role of managers devalues; some of them manage for managing’s sake, waste time and therefore money. Many feel under-recognised and undervalued; some of them become bored, bored out or burnt out.

More importantly, it is not how organisations work best. It’s expensive and it drains funds away from very important segments of the company: there are cuts amongst the working bees and services for the public go down in quality and quantity.

Managers Managing Too Much

Managers manage. That’s their job. And when someone is appointed to be a manager, that person is going to do the job of a manager – ideally. They will want to manage. They will hopefully try to be a good manager, they will study and train and come up with ideas. As a leader of those organisations, you can’t tell your managers not to. You can’t cancel their initiatives all the time, you can’t ask them to do less or slow down. You are looking for a dynamic. You have your contingent of managers, and they have to manage.

But spare a thought for those poor employees who have to undergo this barrage of management ideas. Rarely do they ask for it, too often they are not behind it. It interferes with their work and how they do it. That actually raises their stress levels. When a senior manager has an off-day, he walks in – probably late - and tells his PA to cancel all meetings, because he has to think, and then locks himself up in his office and leans back. If the woman in his office canteen has a day off, she will just have to bite through. She has no control over her workload or work organisation. The right balance of those two creates the lowest stress levels. The correlation between decision autonomy or job control and stress levels has been demonstrated scientifically many times over, for instance by the Whitehall studies, to name but two (http://www.workhealth.org/projects/pwhitew.html ). Over managing takes control away from those who execute and are experts in their tasks. True, those subordinates don’t see the bigger picture; they should realise that and show a lot of patience. But that patience needn’t be tested unnecessarily.

Too Many Managers Managing Too Much

Working as an employee in on environment where too many managers all manage their socks off, as an experience surely must come close to Dante’s Upper Hell from his Divina Commedia. I guess my professional advice to you could only be: get out of there. If I were one of those many managers, I would leave that organisation too. It is clearly ill and it is going to make you ill. Don’t take the risk.

In my next blog post, to follow soon two examples of well-known but dramatically over-managed organisations will demonstrate my point. They will show how that reflects on their output. After pointing out the irony of the “lean organisation”-concept, I will come to a conclusion.

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