Managed to death

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

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Alan Moore has an alarming and important post about workplace suicides pointing the finger largely at management.

He includes a link to Simon Caulkin’s valedictory column for the Observer. I’ve long admired Caulkin’s acerbic, no-nonsense approach and this is pretty much his j’accuse moment.

Across both public and private sectors what readers experienced as “management” was pervasively problematic. It just wasn’t what it said on the tin. Wherever they looked readers found a glaring discrepancy between “official” and “unofficial” versions, between talk and walk. The talk was empowerment, shared destiny, pulling together: the walk was increasing work intensity, tight performance management, risk offloaded on to the individual. The talk was flat organisations: the reality, centralisation and a yawning divide between other ranks, required to minimise their demands for the greater good, and a remote officer class whose rewards had to soar to motivate them to do their job. Employees were the most valuable asset – until costs had to be cut. Repeated mis-selling and other scandals demonstrated it certainly wasn’t the customer who was king.

I fear there is much truth in this analysis, and in Caulkin’s subsequent attack:

Somewhere along the line the edifice of management had been turned upside down – it was shareholders who had become monarch, their courtiers lavishly rewarded managers whose MBA courses had taught them to manage deals and numbers, not things or people. Management had suffered a reverse takeover. Finance annexed reality, cost ousted value, the means became the end.

In some ways, shareholders are not really in charge at all; actually most of them are the same stressed employees investing via pension funds. They end up being cost-cut allegedly to protect their pensions.

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