How effective is management- prove it?

27 01 2009

Just what is effective management?

As I read various theories ranging from universalism to relativism and from mechanistic to organic I’m conscious that those that have prominence are derived from studies of those groups that are successful. Success and failure are essentially defined by economics and ultimately longevity or even existence. It will always be thus; history is written by the winners about their view of success. Those who are successful have achieved this because of effective management.

Or have they?

I am approaching this from a different paradigm, that of science. It prompts me to ask questions from a different perspective and to seek proof. I accept that in itself may be wrong and poossibly naïve but if the management science is true, it should withstand such questioning and offer insights into my error and naivety, bringing about learning.

Clearly this is an area of huge complexity not offering itself to easy understanding. Performance is dependent on the degree of fit between the organisational design, the strategies of the company and the milieu within which they occur. There must be many answers, some more effective than others and all varying in their fit as the milieu and economic climate constantly change. To be in complete control would require either total rigidity in a totally constant climate or immensely complex and reactive management systems.

So instead of the usual faux wisdom and airport department lounge leadership theories I have some questions today:

  • Is there any proof that such “effectiveness” is down to effective management?
  • Are successful companies the result of the perfect application of management science?
  • Is it possible that those same techniques could have been applied in other companies that have failed?
  • How can a successful company with successful management fail? Is it the fault of management or management science? Or something else?
  • If, ultimately, we are left with a jazz like approach of basic principles plus personal elaboration, reflection and extemporization from there, just how scientific is management?
  • what is “effective” management?
  • how effective is management and can you prove it?



2 responses

29 01 2009

I’m going to assume you follow football and the managers of it. Football would seem to be a decent source of experimental information on how management works or doesnt work. What has SAF done at Manchester United that, say, Ramos didnt do at Spurs? What did Redknapp do in the first few weeks after he took over that he isnt doing now? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions and probably never will, but I would bet that, for better or worse, essentially the same things go into success and failure, and luck has more to do with it then anything else. There is endless debate over managers and what they do or don’t do and as a football fan I’m completely sick of hearing about it. My conclusion is basically, SAF got lucky initially and managed to capitalize on the opportunity and that success, however it’s gained, breeds more success, and can even be psychosomatic in the general culture, or perception becomes reality.

I think you could look at managers like Moyes at Everton or O’niell at Villa and say that they have done very well with perhaps less resources and built a team that plays for each other and the manager, and to me that is really all you can ask of a manager. Creating an atmosphere in which individuals can work with each other and see themselves as part of something larger is really all a manager can do, the rest just happens.

31 01 2009
Graeme Martin

I’ve got to agree with this a lot of what is said here. Serendipity seems to be very important, but good leadership does matter in certain ‘windows of opportunity’ in creating successful teams. And we all know that bad leadership matters even more in failing to create the ‘atmosphere in which individuals work togther’. However, the story/evidence on what matters to performance and the role that leaders play, as you well know, is a little more complicated. As a rule of thumb, I’m pretty much persuaded by the AMO theory of performance, which is about whether leaders have the ability, motivation and, importantly, opportunity (being in right place at right time, strategic windows, etc) to make a difference. I’m less sure that ability is the most important part of this theory, but happy to be persuaded.

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