Blog: Simply Managing

Managing Scrambled Eggs

17 October 2018

This is the opening story, that sets the tone, for my new book Bedtime Stories for Managers, a collection of my TWOGs, coming out in February. It’s time to unscramble the messes of managing.

One morning, years ago, I flew Eastern Airlines from Montreal to New York. It was the largest airline in the world at the time, but soon to go belly up.

They served food in those days, well sort of—something they called “scrambled eggs.” I said to the flight attendant: “I’ve eaten some awfully bad things in airplanes, but this has to be the worst.” “I know”, she replied, “we keep telling them; they won’t listen.”

This is the opening story, that sets the tone, for my new book Bedtime Stories for Managers, a collection of my TWOGs, coming out in February. It’s time to unscramble the messes of managing.

One morning, years ago, I flew Eastern Airlines from Montreal to New York. It was the largest airline in the world at the time, but soon to go belly up.

They served food in those days, well sort of—something they called “scrambled eggs.” I said to the flight attendant: “I’ve eaten some awfully bad things in airplanes, but this has to be the worst.” “I know”, she replied, “we keep telling them; they won’t listen.”

Now how could this be? If they were running a cemetery, I could understand the difficulties of communicating with their customers. But an airline? Whenever I encounter awful service, or a badly designed product, I wonder if the management is running the business, or reading the financial statements?

The financial analysts were certainly reading those statements, and probably explaining the airline’s problems in terms of load factors and the like. Don’t believe a number of it. Eastern Airlines went belly up because of those scrambled eggs.

Some years later, after telling this story to a group of managers, one of them, from IBM, came up to tell me another story. The CEO of Eastern Airlines came rushing in at the last minute for a flight, he said. First class was full, so they bumped a paying customer to put him where I guess he had become accustomed. Apparently feeling guilty, he reportedly made his way to Economy Class (no mention was made of him having to ask where it was). There he apologized to the customer, introducing himself as the CEO of the airline. The customer replied: “Well, I’m the CEO of IBM.”

Now, don’t get this wrong. The problem was not about who was bumped. Quite the contrary, status was the problem: higher class counted for more than common sense. Managing is not about sitting where you have become accustomed. It’s about eating the scrambled eggs.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2018 (was on this site 7 April 2016 with small differences). Bedtime Stories for Managers can be preordered on Amazon.

Some Half-truths of Management

22 March 2017

“There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths” (Alfred North Whitehead). So here are a few in management.

We live in times of great change.

Have you heard this before—say in the last hour? Did you know that when a laptop detects a CEO about to type a speech, it automatically enters: “We live in times of great change.”  Why bother the CEO to type it again, since just about every management speech in the past few decades has begun with this line. That never changes.

Do we really live in times of great change? Look around and tell me what’s changed fundamentally. Your food, your furniture, your friends, your fixations? Are you wearing a tie, or high heels? How come: because you always have? How about your car? Under the hood is probably a four-cycle, internal combustion engine. That was in the Model T Ford.

“There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths” (Alfred North Whitehead). So here are a few in management.

We live in times of great change.

Have you heard this before—say in the last hour? Did you know that when a laptop detects a CEO about to type a speech, it automatically enters: “We live in times of great change.”  Why bother the CEO to type it again, since just about every management speech in the past few decades has begun with this line. That never changes.

Do we really live in times of great change? Look around and tell me what’s changed fundamentally. Your food, your furniture, your friends, your fixations? Are you wearing a tie, or high heels? How come: because you always have? How about your car? Under the hood is probably a four-cycle, internal combustion engine. That was in the Model T Ford.

When you got dressed this morning, did you say to yourself: “If we live in times of great change, how come we are still buttoning buttons?” (from Wikipedia: “Functional buttons with buttonholes for fastening or closing clothes appeared first in Germany in the 13th century”.)

What’s my point? That we only notice what is changing, and most things are not. Of course, some things are changing: information technology, most notably. Zap, I hit a few keys and Wikipedia tells me about buttons. I hope you have taken notice of this new technology, because it is rendering great changes.  But I hope that you are also taking notice of all the things that are not changing, because they are no less important. Managing change without managing continuity is anarchy.

The world is becoming more global.

Often, when I work with groups of managers in various parts of the world, I ask them whose businesses have more than half their sales outside the home country. You would be surprised how few do. (If a quintessentially global company like General Electric has about half its sales in the United States, then it is better described as a quintessentially American company.)  Think of how much retailing, banking, food, and so on, is local. On the other hand, more than a century ago, Singer sewing machines were sold as globally as are Apple phones today.

The fact of the matter is that some businesses have long been global, and a great many remain local.

Management sits on top.

Of what? The pay scale, to be sure, and probably the headquarters building too. But mostly on top of that ubiquitous chart. So what? If, as CEO, you see yourself on top of your organization, does that help you keep on top of what is going on in your organization? No. This top is the worst place to manage an organization: looking down on everybody else. Try the ground instead.  Don’t we have enough disconnected managing already?

From this top comes decisions and strategies for everyone else to implement.

IKEA has a terrific strategy: selling unassembled furniture so that we can take it home in our cars, which saves us and the company lots of money. According to IKEA’s own website, this idea came from the ground. A worker tried to put a table in his car, and it didn’t fit, so he took off the legs. Then came the key insight that eventually changed the strategy, and the industry: “If we have to take the legs off, don’t our customers do too?” Who asked that: a CEO on top?

Of course, key to this becoming strategic was a company culture that enabled this idea to get to the CEO, to sprinkle holy water upon it. But I’ll bet this particular CEO, like most successful entrepreneurs, spent lots of time at the bottom finding out what was going on.

Thus: from everywhere, “implementation” included, come little insights that can emerge into big strategies.

Organizations need heroic leaders.

Really? How often have heroic leaders ridden into established organizations on great white horses, only to fall into black holes? New organizations may need aggressive leadership, but most others need engaged management—quiet, humble, thoughtful. Enough narcissism in the executive suites.

People are human resources.

Not me! Feel free to let yourself be called a human resource. I am a human being, thank you. Not even a human asset, let alone human capital. Enough of the demeaning vocabulary of economics—turning us all into things. Resources are things we throw away when we no longer need them. Is that how to build a great enterprise: by throwing away the human beings? (It’s politely called “downsizing”.) Airlines used to refer to passengers as “self-loading cargo.” Are the HR words really any better?

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

This is just plain silly.  If you can’t measure it, you had better manage it. And if you can measure it, you had better manage it even more carefully. Think of all that matters in management—and in life—that is tough to measure: culture, engagement, leadership, the market for a truly novel product (who ever got that right?), even management itself. And tell me, did anyone who uttered this nonsense ever even try to measure the performance of measurement, instead of assuming it is wonderful? I guess, then, that we shall have to get rid of management and measurement too, not to mention truly new products.

I could go on, since too much management goes on and on with its half-truths. Instead I’ll just quote Winston Churchill, that human being who lived in times of greater change than most of us can possibly imagine:

“[People] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. Our International Masters for Managers (impm.org) helps managers face all degrees of truth.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Decision Making: It’s not what we think. It’s also what we see. And what we do too.

21 July 2016

So how do we make decisions? That’s easy. First we diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next we design (identify possible solutions), then we decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally we do (carry that choice into action). In other words, we think in order to act: I call this thinking first.

So how do we make decisions? That’s easy. First we diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next we design (identify possible solutions), then we decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally we do (carry that choice into action). In other words, we think in order to act: I call this thinking first.

So let’s take a decision that was hardly incidental in your life: finding your mate. Did you think first? Following this model, let’s say as a male, first you make a list of what you are looking for in a woman, say brilliant, beautiful, and bashful. Then you list all the possible candidates. Next comes the analysis: you score each candidate (so to speak), on all the criteria. Finally, you add up all the scores to find out who has won, and inform the lucky lady. Except then she informs you that “While you were going through all this, I got married and now have a couple of kids.” Thinking first does have its drawbacks--although arranged marriages in India kind of work like this, and many do work quite well. (You may wish to consider this the next time around.)

So chances are that you proceeded in a different way, like my father, who announced to my grandmother that “Today I met the woman I’m going to marry!” And that he did. There was not a lot of analysis in this decision, I assure you, but it worked out well—a long and happy marriage ensued.

This is known as “love at first sight”; as a model of decision making, I call it seeing first. Even some rather formal decisions happen this way—for example, deciding to hire someone two seconds into the interview, or buying a company because you like the looks of the place. These are not necessarily whims; they can be insights.

But not so fast: there’s a slower and sometimes more sensible way to make decisions. I call it doing first. I’ll leave how that works in finding a mate to your imagination. Suffice it to say that when you’re not sure how to proceed—often the case in making decisions big and small—then you will just have to do, in order to think, instead of thinking, in order to do. You try something in a limited way to see if it might work, and if it doesn’t, you try something else until you find what work. Start small to learn big.

Of course, this can have its drawbacks too. As Terry Connolly, a professor who studies decision making, quipped: “Nuclear wars and childbearing decisions are poor settings for a strategy of ‘try a little one and see how it goes.’” But there are lots of other decisions for which that proves to be a perfectly good strategy. IKEA came up with selling its furniture unassembled after a worker had to take the legs off a table in order to get it in his car. “If we have to do this, what do we think about our customers…?” Rest assured that IKEA must have tried this on a few products before it changed many of them.

So, have you an important decision to make? Good. Hold those thoughts! Look around! Do something! Then you may find yourself thinking differently.

(For more on this and related topics, see the book by Brice Ahlstrand, Joseph Lampel, and myself entitled Management: It’s not what you think (Amazon and Pearson, 2010).

Reference: Terry Connolly “On Taking Action Seriously” in G.N.Undon and D.N.Brunstein eds. Decision-Making: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry (Boston: Kent, 1982:45)

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg Originally posted September 26, 2014. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

Managing Government, Governing Management

16 June 2016

Government certainly needs to be managed, but management also needs to be governed. It cannot just be let loose on public services, especially in the form of the “New Public Management” that imitates fashionable business practices. Governments no more need to be run like businesses than businesses need to be run like governments.

This New Public Management is hardly new: it began with the Thatcher government, in the U.K. of the 1980s. Yet for many influential people today, the old New Public Management remains the “one best way” to manage government.


Wax statue of Margaret Thatcher by YortW, CC BY 2.0

Government certainly needs to be managed, but management also needs to be governed. It cannot just be let loose on public services, especially in the form of the “New Public Management” that imitates fashionable business practices. Governments no more need to be run like businesses than businesses need to be run like governments.

This New Public Management is hardly new: it began with the Thatcher government, in the U.K. of the 1980s. Yet for many influential people today, the old New Public Management remains the “one best way” to manage government.


Wax statue of Margaret Thatcher by YortW, CC BY 2.0

There is no one best way to manage everything. These practices have done their share of damage to many government departments, and beyond. Many corporations and NGOs have also suffered from what can reduce to a contemporary form of bureaucracy that discourages innovation, damages cultures, and disengages employees.

In essence, the New Public Management seeks to (a) isolate public services, so that (b)  each can be run by an individual manager, who is (c) held accountable for quantitate measures of performance, while (d) treating the recipient of these services as “customers.” Let’s take a look at all this.

Am I a customer of my government, or a citizen and a subject?  I am no customer of my government, thank you, buying services at arm’s length in the marketplace of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Do I really need to be called a “customer” to be treated decently?

I am in fact a citizen, who has every right to expect more than a mere customer. This is my government, after all. I am also a subject—whether formally in kingdoms or de facto elsewhere—who has responsibilities to my state. For example, while I may choose to empty my tray at McDonald’s, in our public parks I am expected to keep things tidy. How about soldiers drafted in wartime: are they customers of the government they are expected to serve? And criminals: are they customers of the justice system? True I may be a customer of the state lottery, but frankly, government has no business encouraging me to gamble.

Some activities are in government because caveat emptor cannot possibly apply. Regulation for example. And policing: blacks are citizens of the United States who should not have to beware of their own police. Other activities are funded by government, if not necessarily be delivered by it, to ensure  equality and decency of service. Think of the many health care and educational activities delivered by not-for-profit institutions on behalf of government. (Imagine caveat emptor applied to open heart surgery.)

Can government services be isolated from each other, as well as from political influences, so they can be managed by their managers?   Sure sometimes—again the state lottery. But how about diplomacy?

Let the managers manage” is the motto, just like in business. It sounds good. Isolate the services so that managers themselves can manage them while being held accountable for the results.  (And don’t forget to call these managers CEOs.) Talk about centralization—or more exactly, decentralization from the central state apparatus in order to centralize the department.

Johnson & Johnson can have one brand manager for Tylenol and another for Anusol. But can a government have one brand manager for waging a war and another for diplomatic negotiations to end it? Individuals may be assigned to these activities, but can their responsibilities be isolated? Government activities are wide-ranging, covering so much of life itself, yet can be intricately intertwined, as in life itself.

Nor can the policy-making of many public services be easily separated from the  administration of them. Sure the politicians need to be kept from meddling, especially where there can be graft. But can they remain aloof, for example, when the police are accused of abuse?

This separation of policy-making from administration parallels the belief in business that strategies are formulated at the “top” so that everyone else can implement down below. The superstructure plans and the microstructures execute. It’s all very tidy. Except that the interesting strategies are learned, not planned—sometimes throughout the organization, namely back and forth between managers and other people on the ground. In government this separation is built in, and reinforced by the New Public Management. Yet it can stifle innovation and flexibility.


Free Press and Prentice-Hall International, 1994. Amazon

Can we really rely on performance measures in government?  Measurement has been adopted with a religious fervor in the New Public Management. Look what it has done to the education of our children. I defy anyone to measure adequately what a child learns in a classroom (and you to measure what you are learning in this TWOG). 

Sure we need to measure what we can, just so long as we don’t pretend that everything that matters can be measured. Much that matters in government is not in business precisely because it has no easy measures of performance.

I have been railing on about the dangers of obsessive measuring in a number of these TWOGs. In government, the need to measure everything in sight may now be doing as much harm as corruption. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is the popular motto. When enough people believe it, we shall have to close down government.

The “balanced scoreboard” is based on the mistaken belief that we can level the playing field across social and economic considerations by measuring both. But that scoreboard can never be balanced because things social are often much harder to measure than things economic. (Once a year I repeat one of my favorite TWOGs about this, called “What could possibly be wrong with efficiency?” Coming soon.) What we need in government, and elsewhere, are balanced brains.

So the next time some civil servant calls you a customer or imposes some artificial measure on you, the next time you meet a “CEO” of some government agency, the next time some candidate for political office claims that government needs to be run more like a business (heard that lately?), tell them that if they wish to manage government effectively, they shall have to respect government for what it is—while governing its management.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. An earlier article by the same title makes a few of these points and others. See also our book Managing PubliclyFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

The Epidemic of Managing without Soul

25 May 2016

I will be doing a live Facebook conversation June 1st at noon (EST). I posted this TWOG a year ago (21 May).  Since this has been one of the most popular TWOGs, I repeat it here, with some editing, as a main subject for that conversation. To receive a notification when the broadcast goes live, follow my Facebook page and add any question you would like to ask.

My daughter Lisa once left me a note in a shoe that read “Souls need fixing.” Little did she know…

I will be doing a live Facebook conversation June 1st at noon (EST). I posted this TWOG a year ago (21 May).  Since this has been one of the most popular TWOGs, I repeat it here, with some editing, as a main subject for that conversation. To receive a notification when the broadcast goes live, follow my Facebook page and add any question you would like to ask.

My daughter Lisa once left me a note in a shoe that read “Souls need fixing.” Little did she know…

A tale of two nurses  When we asked the incoming members of our health care management program (imhl.org) to share stories about their experiences, an obstetrician told about the time when he was shuttling as a resident between the wards of different hospitals. He and his colleagues “loved working” in one of them. It was a “happy” place, thanks to a head nurse who cared. She was understanding, respectful of everyone, intent on promoting collaboration between doctors and nurses. The place had soul.

Then she retired, and was replaced by someone qualified in nursing, with a masters degree in management. Without “any conversation…she started questioning everything.” She was strict with the nurses, for example arriving early to check who came late. Where there used to be chatting and laughing at the start of shifts, “it became normal for us to see one nurse crying” because of some comment by the new manager.

Morale plummeted, and soon that spread to the physicians: “It took 2-3 months to destroy that amazing family…. We used to compete to go to that hospital; [later] we didn’t want to go there any more.” Yet “the higher authority didn’t intervene or maybe was not aware” of what was going on.

The Epidemic  How often have you heard such a story, or experienced one? In the work that I do—studying management and organizations—I hear them often (in one week when I first wrote this, four times). And no few are about CEOs. Managing without soul has become an epidemic in society. Many managers these days seem to specialize in killing cultures, at the expense of human engagement.

Too many MBA programs teach this, however inadvertently. Out of them come graduates with a distorted impression of management: detached, generic, technocratic. They are educated out of context, taught to believe they can manage anything, whereas in actual fact they have learned to manage nothing. Such technocratic detachment is bad enough—numbers, numbers. numbers. The worst of it is also mean-spirited, by bullying people and playing them off against each other. One person, pushed around for years by a nasty boss, said: “It’s the little things that wear you down.”

These managers focus on themselves. You can tell them by their references to “my department”, “my hospital”, as if they own the place because they manage it.  Some, of course, say “our department”, but you can pretty easily tell whether they are sincere. And when they get to the “top” of some non-business organization, they prefer to be called “CEO”, as if they are managing a business. Please understand: managing without soul is bad for business too.

Why do we tolerate this? Why do we allow narcissists with credentials, posing as leaders, to bring down so many of our institutions?

Part of the problem is that people are generally selected into managerial positions by “superiors” (senior managers, boards of directors), often without understanding the damage caused by their decisions. And so we often get what have been called “kiss up and kick down” managers—able to impress “superiors” while denigrating “subordinates.”

A hotel with soul  Last year I was in England for meetings about our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org—it’s designed with soul, for soul). We stayed at one of those corporate hotels—I hated it from years ago, no spirit, no soul. I recalled the high turnover of staff, and the time when they charged our Japanese participants $10 per minute for calls back home—minutes that a participant from British Telecom estimated to cost the hotel pennies.

Lisa was in England, and so after the meetings we went travelling in the Lake District, a great place to hike. The IMPM was to run a few months later in a hotel there that we hadn’t used before, so we volunteered to check it out.

I walked in and fell in love with the place. Beautifully appointed, perfectly cared for, a genuinely attentive staff—this hotel was loaded with soul. I’ve been studying organizations for so long that I can often enter one and sense soul, or no soul, in an instant. I can feel the energy of the place, or the lethargy; the genuine smile instead of the grin from some “greeter”; honest concern instead of programmed “care.” (“We appreciate your business!” as you wait for someone to answer the phone. Translation: “Our time is more important than yours.”). 

”What’s it mean to have soul?” Lisa asked. “You know it when you see it,” I replied. In every little corner. I asked a waiter about hiking trails. He didn’t know so he fetched the manager of the hotel to tell me. Soon he was there, in no rush to cut the conversation short. I chatted with a young woman at reception. “The throw pillows on the bed are really beautiful” I said. “Yes,” she replied, ‘the owner cares for every detail--she picked those pillows herself.”  How long have you been here?” I asked. Four years, she said proudly, and then rattled off the tenures of the senior staff: the manager 14 years, the assistant manager 12 years, the head of sales a little less.

Why can’t all organizations be like this? Most people—employees, customers, managers--want to care, given half a chance. We human beings have souls, and so too can our hospitals and hotels. Why do we build so many great institutions only to let them wither under the control of people who should never have been allowed to manage anything? Souls need fixing all right, and so does a lot of managing.


Inn on the Lake,  Ullswatter U.K.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016, 2015. See my book Simply Managing, which also discusses how else to select managers (on pages 161-164). There are many TWOGS related to this theme: “Five easy steps to destroying your organization”, “Celebrating the flawed manager”, “Managing to lead”, “Managing scrambled eggs”; “Enough leadership; time for communityship”; “Time for management education”; “The Harvard 19”; “Jack’s turn.”

Managing Scrambled Eggs

7 April 2016

Years ago I flew Eastern Airlines one morning from Montreal to New York. It was the largest airline in the world at the time, run by ex-astronaut Frank Borman, but soon to disappear.

They served food in those days, well sort of—something they called scrambled eggs. I said to the flight attendant: “I’ve eaten some awfully bad things in airplanes, but this has to be the worst.” She replied: “I know. We keep telling them; they won’t listen.”

Now how can this be? If they were running a funeral home, I could appreciate not communicating with the customers. But an airline? Whenever I encounter some awful service, or a badly designed product, I wonder about the management. Is it running the business, or reading financial statements?

Years ago I flew Eastern Airlines one morning from Montreal to New York. It was the largest airline in the world at the time, run by ex-astronaut Frank Borman, but soon to disappear.

They served food in those days, well sort of—something they called scrambled eggs. I said to the flight attendant: “I’ve eaten some awfully bad things in airplanes, but this has to be the worst.” She replied: “I know. We keep telling them; they won’t listen.”

Now how can this be? If they were running a funeral home, I could appreciate not communicating with the customers. But an airline? Whenever I encounter some awful service, or a badly designed product, I wonder about the management. Is it running the business, or reading financial statements?

I guess that the financial analysts of the time were reading those statements too, and telling everybody about the problems of load factors, route structures, turnaround times, whatever. Don’t believe a word (or number) of it. Eastern Airlines went belly up because of those scrambled eggs.

Some years later, after telling this story to a group of mangers, one, from IBM, came up to tell me another story. Borman came running in at the last minute for a flight. First class was full, so they bumped a paying customer to put the boss where I guess he had become accustomed. But, apparently feeling guilty, he decided to speak to the customer. He asked a flight attendant where he could find economy class. (I made this part up, but the rest is reported as told to me.) Borman went back and found the customer. “I’m Frank Borman, president of Eastern Airlines,” he said. The customer answered: “I’m John Akers, president of IBM.”

Now the problem was not about who was bumped. Quite the contrary: status was the problem. Class counted for more than substance. Managing is not about sitting where you have become accustomed. It’s about eating scrambled eggs.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page.

 

The tricky task of measuring managers

24 March 2016

You are a manager; you want to know how you are doing. Other people around you are even more intent on knowing how you are doing. Especially if you are the chief executive. (If you want to know what you should be doing, you’ll have to read another TWOG, called “Celebrating the Flawed Manager.”)

There are lots of easy ways to assess how you are doing. Beware of them all. The effectiveness of a manager can only be judged in context. Notice: not just measured. This may sound easy enough, until you take it apart. Here we do so in seven subpropositions. (Bear with me—I’ll explain later why we need so many.)

You are a manager; you want to know how you are doing. Other people around you are even more intent on knowing how you are doing. Especially if you are the chief executive. (If you want to know what you should be doing, you’ll have to read another TWOG, called “Celebrating the Flawed Manager.”)

There are lots of easy ways to assess how you are doing. Beware of them all. The effectiveness of a manager can only be judged in context. Notice: not just measured. This may sound easy enough, until you take it apart. Here we do so in seven subpropositions. (Bear with me—I’ll explain later why we need so many.)

(1) Managers are not effective; matches are effective. There are not so much good husbands and good wives as good couples. Well, how about managers and their units? There may be managers who fail in all managerial jobs, but there are none who can succeed in all of them. Success depends on the match between the person and the unit, in the situation at the time, for a time. Hence a flaw that can be tolerable in one context—even be considered a positive quality, such as a compulsive focus on cost reduction—can prove to be fatal in another. Thus (2) There are no effective managers in general, which also means (3) There is no such thing as a professional manager—someone who can manage anything.

Of course, managers and their units succeed and fail together. So (4) To assess the effectiveness of a manager, you also have to assess the effectiveness of the unit being managed. But not only that: (5) You also have to assess the contribution the manager made to that effectiveness.

Some units function well despite their managers, and others would function a lot worse if not for their managers. So beware of assuming that the manager is automatically responsible for any success or failure of a unit. History matters; culture matters; markets matter; even weather can matter. How many managers have succeeded simply by manoeuvring themselves into favorable jobs, making sure they did not screw up, and then taking credit for the success? (See the photo!)  

To further complete matters, (6) Managerial effectiveness also has to be assessed for broader impact, beyond the unit and even the organization. What use is a manager who makes the unit more effective at the expense of the rest of the organization? For example, sales sold so much product that manufacturing could not keep up, and so the company went into turmoil. Blame the sales manager? For doing his or her job? Shouldn’t general management be held responsible for managing the whole? Believe this, exclusively, and you may be part of the bureaucracy that has brought down so many organizations.

All organizations are flawed: unexpected problems can arise anywhere. Effective organizations deal with such problems in their own time and place, by whoever is best able to respond. No organization can afford to have managers put on blinders to do their jobs, refusing to look left or right.

Imagine if more organizations were to assess the performance of their units and managers together, with regard to their contribution to the whole. To repeat what I think cannot be repeated enough, a healthy organization is a community of engaged human beings, not a collection of detached human resources.

Moreover, what is right for the unit and even for the organization might be wrong for the world around it. For example, bribing customers may be effective for making sales, but is this the kind of effectiveness we want? Mussolini, the fascist dictator, was famous for making the Italian trains run on time.  In that respect, he was an effective manager. In others, he was a monster.

Put all these points together, and you have to ask: How can anyone who needs to assess a manager possibly cope with all this? The answer here, too, is simple—at least in principle: (7) Managerial effectiveness has to be judged and not just measured. (We’ll get to judgment in a later TWOG, maybe next week.) We can certainly get measures of effectiveness for some of these things, especially unit performance in the short run. But how are we to measure the rest? Where is the composite measure that answers the magic question?

If you think that so many points to assess managerial effectiveness is excessive, then think about the excessiveness of efforts that have ignored most of them. Think, for example, about executive bonuses based on measuring the increase in the price of the stock. The effectiveness of executives has to be assessed over the long run, but since we don’t know how to measure that, at least as attributable to any specific individual, executive bonuses should be eliminated. Period.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016.  Adapted from Chapter 6 called “Managing Effectively” of my book Simply Managing. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.

Natural and Unnatural Managerial Jobs (thinking outside the boxes)

29 January 2016

Imagine managing cheese in India for an international food company, or running a general hospital in Montreal. Sounds petty straightforward, right?

Now imagine that you did so well in India that the company wants you to manage cheese for all of Asia. How about that? Or in Montreal, the government wants you to manage another hospital too—to run back and forth between them, or else stay in an office somewhere and shoot off emails like John Wayne with a couple of six-shooters.

Imagine managing cheese in India for an international food company, or running a general hospital in Montreal. Sounds petty straightforward, right?

Now imagine that you did so well in India that the company wants you to manage cheese for all of Asia. How about that? Or in Montreal, the government wants you to manage another hospital too—to run back and forth between them, or else stay in an office somewhere and shoot off emails like John Wayne with a couple of six-shooters.

Actually the true story in Montreal, as told in the TWOG of January 6, is that, in reorganizing heath care services in Quebec, the government clustered them so that, in one region for example, it designated a position in charge of a hospital plus eight other institutions—a community clinic, rehabilitation center, palliative care unit, various social services, and so on. It actually eliminated all nine positions heading up these institutions, and expected this one manager to manage the whole works.

Unmanageable Managing  Some managerial positions are rather natural and others are not. Cheese in India is probably OK, but cheese in Asia? One hospital sure, but two together (which, when you get past the chart, are actually two apart), let alone nine different institutions?

Why are we tolerating so many unmanageable managerial jobs? Years ago, conglomerates were all the rage among corporations. If you knew management, you could manage everything—say a filmmaking studio plus a nuclear reactor plus a chain of toenail salons. That era passed, thankfully—now it’s fashionable again to manage coherent businesses—but we have passed into an era of internal conglomeration: many managers have to manage perplexing mixtures of activities

Perhaps this is happening because drawing charts is a lot easier than selling cheese. Sit in some central office attached to no other activities in the organization; cluster its various activities together, each with a lucid label (Central Montreal, Cheese in Asia, whatever); put a box around each of these clusters on a piece of paper; join them all with lines to show who is the real boss; and email the tidy result to all concerned, leaving them to deal with any catastrophic consequences.[1] Cheese in Asia: what could be simpler than that? Or more complicated?

That category called Asia  They eat a lot of cheese in India, but hardly any in Japan. What in the world is “Asia” anyway? Any continent that contains both India and Japan can’t be serious: I know of no two countries that are more different.

Have a look at a map of the world: Africa looks like a continent geographically, even socially to some extent. So does South America, and especially Antarctica. But Asia? It’s just a figment of some mapmaker’s lack of imagination.

All the continents end by the sea, except Europe. But Europeans, who I imagine designated the continents in the first place, could hardly be left out; let alone lumped into Eurasia, even if that is what the maps clearly indicated. But where to draw the line between Europe and Asia, with no sea in sight and the countries blending into each other culturally, from Ireland all the way through to Japan (Ireland to England, Iran to Afghanistan, Korea to Japan)?

So the mapmakers simply sliced Russia in two and designated a mountain range within it as the place where Europe ends and Asia begins. A line was drawn where no line existed so that Europe could be a continent too. (By this logic, Chile should also be a continent.) People who used to make such maps now design organization charts.[2]

The most dangerous manager  Let’s get back to business. You are managing cheese in Asia, except that people in some parts of  Asia eat lots of cheese and others don’t. So how are you to manage that, especially when the person who took your old job is already managing cheese in India perfectly well, thank you?

If you are smart, you wouldn’t even try. But that won’t get you a bigger job—say to become the Big Cheese for all of food in Asia, let alone Chief Executive Officer for the whole world, to sell cheese and kimchi and harissa and poutine everywhere. So manage cheese in Asia you must.  

And that’s when the problems begin. Doing nothing in a job where there is nothing to do may make perfectly good sense. But don’t expect this from any self-respecting manager. These are energetic people—that‘s one reason they got to be managers in the first place. And the more senior they are, the more energetic they tend to be.

Remember this: Nothing is more dangerous than a manager with nothing to do. Put one into an unnatural job and he or she will find something to do. Like arranging summits where the cheese managers from India and Japan, China and Vietnam, can search for “synergies”—ways to help each other sell product to people who don’t want it.

Otherwise, it’s boring sitting there in the regional office in Singapore (the center of the Asian non-continent). So into an airplane goes our energetic manager—better to Japan than India—not to micro-manage, mind you. (Control went out of fashion in the last quarter.) Just to have a look. I’m just the boss, in charge of cheese for Asia, says this manager to the manager in charge of cheese for Japan. But do let me ask you a few questions: How come cheese is not moving in Japan? Isn’t the job of business to create a customer? They eat Korean kimchi here, don’t they, just like they eat Indian chutneys in England and Indonesian Rijsttafel in Holland. Why not Swiss cheese in the Ginza?

Beyond the Boxes  A hospital all in one place is a natural entity. Selling cheese in India also seems natural enough—there may be different kinds, but at least it all uses milk.[3] But expecting people to work together because someone somewhere drew some boxes on a piece of paper doesn’t have to be natural at all. Categories do matter, especially when they need to be ignored. Why must the working lives of people be thrown into turmoil when they could instead be selling cheese or treating the ill? Surely we can organize ourselves outside the boxes.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Sections of this are drawn from my book Simply ManagingFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing at mintzberg.org/blog.


[1] One victim of the Quebec effort wrote to me recently about the consequences in another hospital: “I have been through many reorganization efforts and transformations since I have been a ‘medical administrator’, but none came even close to being so destructive and dehumanizing…. What is amazing is that we are all paralyzed. A few of us have spoken up, but our words have no impact. The silence and passivity are frightening.” Sound familiar?

[2] The problem persists, to the detriment of the European Union. It had no-where to draw the line between Western Europe and the rest—no mountain range, not even a place where cheese consumption ended (they eat Feta in Greece). So the EU kept pushing eastward, and now it has become the European Disunion.

[3] There is a famous exchange between Churchill and de Gaulle during the war when Churchill told him that any country with 300 different cheeses can’t possibly be governable, and de Gaulle replied that France had 350.

 

Celebrating the Flawed Manager

14 January 2016

What makes a manager effective? The answer awaits you on all kinds of little lists. (Who would take dozens of items seriously?) For example, in replying to “What Makes a Leader?”, a University of Toronto EMBA brochure listed: “The courage to challenge the status quo. To flourish in a demanding environment. To collaborate for the greater good. To set clear direction in a rapidly changing world. To be fearlessly decisive.”

The trouble with these little lists is that they are always incomplete. For example, where on this one is basic intelligence, or being a good listener? Fear not—these appear on other lists. So if we are to trust any of these lists, we shall have to combine all of them.

What makes a manager effective? The answer awaits you on all kinds of little lists. (Who would take dozens of items seriously?) For example, in replying to “What Makes a Leader?”, a University of Toronto EMBA brochure listed: “The courage to challenge the status quo. To flourish in a demanding environment. To collaborate for the greater good. To set clear direction in a rapidly changing world. To be fearlessly decisive.”

The trouble with these little lists is that they are always incomplete. For example, where on this one is basic intelligence, or being a good listener? Fear not—these appear on other lists. So if we are to trust any of these lists, we shall have to combine all of them.

This, for the sake of a better world, I have done in a table, included at the end of this TWOG. (Read the footnote if you wish to be especially amused.) It lists 52 qualities from various lists that I have found, including a few missing favorites of my own. Be all 52 and you are bound to be a terribly effective manager. Even if not a human one.

The Inevitably Flawed Manager

All of this is part of our romance of leadership, that puts ordinary mortals on pedestals—“Rudolph is the perfect person for the job: he will save us!”—and then allows us to vilify them as they come crashing down—“How could Rudolph have failed us so?” Yet some managers do stay up, if not on that silly pedestal. How so?

The answer is simple: Successful managers are flawed—we are all flawed—but their particular flaws are not fatal under the circumstances. (Superman was flawed, too—remember Kryptonite?). Reasonable human beings find ways to live with each other’s reasonable flaws.  

Fatally flawed are those superman lists of managerial qualities, because they are utopian—and often wrong. For example, who can argue with managers being  “fearlessly decisive”? For starters, anyone who watched George W. Bush lead (but not manage) the American march into Iraq. Or how about Osama Bin Laden, who “had the courage to challenge the status quo”? Ingvar Kamprad, who built IKEA into one of the most successful retail chains ever, needed fifteen years to “set clear direction in a rapidly changing world.” Actually, he succeeded because the furniture world was not changing rapidly; IKEA changed it.

Choosing the Devil you had better get to know

If everyone’s flaws come out sooner or later, then to avoid failed managers, not to mention failed marriages, sooner is better. So managers, like spouses, should be selected for their flaws as much as for their qualities. Unfortunately we have this tendency to ignore the flaws and focus on the qualities, often just one: “Sally’s a great networker” or “Joe’s a visionary,” especially if the failed predecessor was a lousy networker or devoid of strategic vision. (As for marriages, when meeting a possible new mate, the usual refrain is: “Thank goodness he/she is not [fill in whatever was wrong with the last one].” In actual fact, he or she will prove to have some remarkable new flaw that you could never have imagined.)

There are really only two ways to grasp a person’s flaws: marry them or work for them. But who among the people who select managers—board members for chief executives, “superior” managers for “subordinate” ones (what awful terms)—have ever worked for the candidates, let alone been married to them? What can they possibly know about these candidates’ flaws? The consequence is that many of their choices end up as “kiss up and kick down” managers: smooth-talking and overconfident, great at impressing “superiors” but hardly leaders in managing whomever they see as subordinate.

What, then, are these “superiors” to do? That’s easy: get past their superiority, and themselves, to the people who know the candidates best. They can’t exactly ask the candidates’ partners, because spouses will be biased and ex-spouses will be more biased. But they can get the opinions of people who have worked for these candidates.

I’m not one for simple prescriptions in management, but if one change could improve the practice of managing monumentally, it is giving voice in selection processes to those people who know the candidates best, namely the ones who have been managed by them.

As for your personal choices, fear not. Just choose, with great care, your fabulously flawed job, your forbiddingly flawed boss, and your faithfully flawed spouse.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016; first posted, with minor differences, 21 October 2014. This TWOG has been adapted from the last chapter of my book Simply Managing (Berrett-Koehler and Pearson, 2013).

References: Meindel, J.R., Ehrlich, S.B., & Dukerich, J.M. (1985). The Romance of Leadership. Administrative Science Quarterly, 30, 78-102.

Gowin, E.B. (1920). The Executive and His Control of Men: A Study in Personal Efficiency. New York: Macmillan.

Composite List of Basic Qualities for Assured Managerial Success
  • courageous
  • committed
  • curious
  • confident
  • candid
  • reflective
  • insightful
  • open-minded/tolerant (of people, ambiguities, and ideas)
  • innovative
  • communicative (including being a good listener)
  • connected/informed
  • perceptive
  • thoughtful/intelligent/wise
  • analytic/objective
  • pragmatic
  • decisive (action-oriented)
  • proactive
  • charismatic
  • passionate
  • inspiring
  • visionary
  • energetic/enthusiastic
  • upbeat/optimistic
  • ambitious
  • tenacious/persistent/zealous
  • collaborative/participative/cooperative
  • engaging
  • supportive/sympathetic/empathetic
  • stable
  • dependable
  • fair
  • accountable
  • ethical/honest
  • consistent
  • flexible
  • balanced
  • integrative
  • tall*

Source: Compiled from various sources; my own favorites in italics.

*This item appeared on no list that I saw. But it might rank ahead of many of the other items because studies have shown that managers are on average taller than other people. To quote from a 1920 study, entitled The Executive and His Control of Men, based on research done a lot more carefully than much of what we find in the great journals of today, Enoch Burton Gowin addressed the question “Viewing it as a chemical machine, is a larger body able to supply a greater amount of energy?” More specifically, might there be “some connection between an executive’s physique, as measured by height and weight, and the importance of the position he holds?” (1920:22, 31). The answer, in statistic after statistic gathered by the author, is yes. Bishops, for example, averaged greater height than the preachers of small towns; superintendents of school systems were taller than principals of schools. Other data on railroad executives, governors, etc., supported these findings. The “Super-intendents of Street Cleaning” were actually the second tallest of all, after the “Reformers.” (The “Socialist Organizers” were just behind the “police chiefs” but well up there.) Musicians were at the bottom of the list (p. 25).

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing at mintzberg.org/blog.

It Does Have an Off Button

30 July 2015

co-authored with Peter Todd

Last week’s TWOG suggested that the new digital technologies may be driving much managing over the edge, making it frenetic to the point where managers lose control of their own work. This week’s TWOG suggests what managers, and everyone else driven nuts by these technologies (who isn’t?), can do about it. 

Holidays are magical times, and not just because the sun is shining. This can also be because of the silence: the smart phone is off, not a hint of “You’ve got mail!”… if you take the opportunity.

Are you? (Ha! Not if you are reading this in some vacation paradise!) How often do you? Or are you yet another prisoner of the new electronic technologies, struggling to keep the digital world, with its e-mail and i-phones, texts and tweets, apart from your own world?

co-authored with Peter Todd

Last week’s TWOG suggested that the new digital technologies may be driving much managing over the edge, making it frenetic to the point where managers lose control of their own work. This week’s TWOG suggests what managers, and everyone else driven nuts by these technologies (who isn’t?), can do about it. 

Holidays are magical times, and not just because the sun is shining. This can also be because of the silence: the smart phone is off, not a hint of “You’ve got mail!”… if you take the opportunity.

Are you? (Ha! Not if you are reading this in some vacation paradise!) How often do you? Or are you yet another prisoner of the new electronic technologies, struggling to keep the digital world, with its e-mail and i-phones, texts and tweets, apart from your own world?

How to harness these new technologies, to serve us instead of us serving them? Various estimates have office workers spending almost 30% of their time just on e-mail. A Google search of “effective e-mail communication” yielded some 63 million results―another example of “information overload” (which itself yields over 10 million results)1―although much of this proved to be about “good communication,” meaning to be clear and concise, etc. All of us can certainly communicate better, but our concern here is about dealing with the volume, flow, and distraction. So please consider the following:

Get e-stingy   

There is one obvious way to alleviate the problem: think before you send.  Reduce your sent messages, and their number of recipients. The more messages and people you put on a network, the more messages you can expect in return. This may be obvious, but how many of us get it? Or realize that we can spend so much time arranging things on e-mail that we barely have time to do them. So please, be electronically stingy: send the minimum, and only to people who need to know. (Have a look at the Guide at the end about studying yourself.)

Use PAs and e-PAs  

The personal assistants who have long managed the time, information flow, and access to executives can handle e-mail tasks too. They can triage, delegate, even reply. Multiple e-mail addresses―one public, for the PA to screen, the other private, for yourself―can be used to manage message volume. But even without the luxury of a personal assistant, consider that second e-mail address, restricted to a close circle of contacts: this one to look at carefully, the other one to skim occasionally. (How about a third one, to collect the debris of your online registration adventures?)  Maybe even consider a personal server, although we don’t recommend this to any American Secretary of State who happens to be reading this.

Take a seven-hour e-sabbatical 

Managing your e-mail load is one thing, but you also need to escape from it. At the limit, take note of Danah Boyd of Microsoft, who not only declared an e-mail sabbatical but also used an electronic filter to delete all incoming messages, with an automatic reply to contact her after her sabbatical ended. But you needn’t go that far: a sabbatical of a few hours can help too. Just try scheduling out e-mail time, attending to it in blocks only once or twice a day, bearing in mind that “urgent” does not necessary mean having to respond urgently (or, in some cases, at all). 

Better still, schedule in “soft time” for personal interaction and reflection, when nothing is scheduled. Try turning off the message prompts in favor of “out of office” replies, even when you are in the office. (For managers, this can read: “Sorry, I’m managing.”) And when you go home, be sure to forget your chargers at work (or hide the ones at home), let the batteries run down, and watch your own energy rise up.

Go e-bankrupt   

Some people who were completely overwhelmed have declared “e-mail bankruptcy.” Out with the old e-mail address and in with a new one. Given that fresh start, you can develop better habits about how to send, receive, and respond to messages, while losing connections with those people best left behind. At the very least, you can push key mail to a new address, as mentioned above. Especially when you change jobs, take advantage of the opportunity to simplify your communication life.

Find th-e-button  

When all else fails, remember that every one of these devices has an off button. Seriously: you can discover it in some corner of the screen, or hiding on some edge. Hit it to stop yourself from going over the edge. That way, you might discover that your work and your life have an on button!

One thing we have learned in the novel management programs we developed at McGill (impm.org and imhl.org; see also CoachingOurselves.com) is that managers today desperately need to pause, step back, and reflect thoughtfully on their own experience. Managers hardly need development programs that replicate the pressures of managing. We find that the temporarily disconnected managers in our programs relish the opportunity to learn by sharing their experiences with each other. Sometimes this even distracts them from those devices vibrating in their pockets! 

By temporarily disconnected, we don’t mean until the next coffee break. Every management development program requires use of that off-button during class time. But don’t conclude that its owner has stopped running in his or her head, all ready to reconnect the moment that break is announced. We encourage even those who can’t wind themselves down to at least wait until the program winds itself down for the day.

All of us need to appreciate that the off button works outside the classroom—in the office, even at home, and especially during holidays. So use it, now that you have finished reading this TWOG (after you read the Guide below—that’s urgent!).

© Henry Mintzberg and Peter Todd 2015. Peter is the former dean at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management and incoming Directeur Général of HEC Paris. See our article “The Offline Executive” for an extension of these points. See also CoachingOurselves.com  to engage your own group in these ideas. Photo at end taken by photographer Lisa Mintzberg.

 

GUIDE: Study yourself…to become part of the solution

Try the following exercise, to determine whether you are part of the problem or part of the solution, also to assess how important the messages you send and receive really are. The results may surprise you.

Do three calculations: (1) of your send/receive ratio: the number of messages you send compared with those you receive; (2) of your origination rate: the percentage of messages you initiate rather than reply to; and (3) of your action-required rate: the portion of messages you receive for which some action is required (typically replying or forwarding).

By way of illustration, one of us, Peter (the has-dean), not Henry (the is-professor), did this for a work week, and was surprised by the result. He received 294 e-mails, not counting those caught by junk mail and spam filters. 20% of these were generated by messaging systems; the rest came from individual senders. During this week, 64 e-mails were sent to 76 recipients.  Of these, 33 were responses to some of the 294 messages received (a little more than 10%), 13 were messages received and forwarded to someone else to handle (about 5%), and 18 were messages originated (6% of the total received).

In other words, of the 294 e-mails received, only 46 (about 15%) required action, 107 (about one-third) were unread (because the subject line said it all, the information was obsolete, or the message did not pass the personal junk-mail filter), and the rest (about half) could be classified as “for information” (which could still require significant time and attention).

All quite surprising. And you?

ADDENDUM: e-mail from Peter 30/7/2015

Henry. If we want to embarrass ourselves you could publish this string of emails as an appendix. On the other hand think of how long this might have taken if we'd used pens, scissors, scotch tape and Canada Post to process the edits back and forth! In retrospect and upon reflection all this technology is good for something after all. Peter

-----------------------

Apparently you are not overwhelmed, so here are some more of those Google stats: there are 50 million on effective tweeting, 14 million on effective text messaging, and most important of all, 430,000 on how to use texts to flirt effectively.

 

Managing in the Digital Age: Over the Edge?

23 July 2015

Managing does not change, not fundamentally. It is a practice, rooted in art and craft, not a science or a profession, dependent on analysis. The subject matter of managing certainly changes, all the time, as do the styles that some managers favor, but not the basic practice.

There is, however, one evident difference in recent times that is influencing the practice of managing: the digital technologies, which over the past two decades have dramatically increased speed and volume in the transmission of information. Have their impacts on managing been likewise dramatic?

My answer is yes and no. No, because these technologies mainly reinforce the very characteristics that have long prevailed in managerial work. And yes, because this very tendency may be driving the practice of managing over the edge.

Managing does not change, not fundamentally. It is a practice, rooted in art and craft, not a science or a profession, dependent on analysis. The subject matter of managing certainly changes, all the time, as do the styles that some managers favor, but not the basic practice.

There is, however, one evident difference in recent times that is influencing the practice of managing: the digital technologies, which over the past two decades have dramatically increased speed and volume in the transmission of information. Have their impacts on managing been likewise dramatic?

My answer is yes and no. No, because these technologies mainly reinforce the very characteristics that have long prevailed in managerial work. And yes, because this very tendency may be driving the practice of managing over the edge.

The Characteristics of Managing  

What are these characteristics of managing? As I discussed in my 2013 book Simply Managing, also observed in my 1973 book The Nature of Managerial Work, much managing is hectic: it is fast-paced, high-pressured, and frequently interrupted. In the words of one chief executive, managing is “one damn thing after another.” This is an action-oriented job.

It is also significantly communicative: managers do a lot of talking and listening. This job has always been mostly oral—not much reading and writing. And it has also been as lateral as it has been hierarchical: research has demonstrated that most managers spend at least as much time with people outside their units as with those on the inside.

Observe some managers as I did for my recent book (from a head nurse to a corporate CEO, in settings from an orchestra to a refugee camp), and you will likely see pretty much all of this. Does this suggest that there is a lot of bad managing out there? Not at all. It describes normal managing—inevitable managing.

Now enter the digital age: how do the new technologies affect these characteristics of managing? Niels Bohr reportedly quipped that “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” So let’s focus on the present, especially the technology that managers have been most eager to embrace—e-mail.

The Pace and the Pressures  

One thing seems certain: the capacity to communicate instantly with people anywhere increases the pace and pressure of managing, and likely the interruptions as well. “You’ve got mail!”…and better answer it right away.

But don’t be fooled. I found in my original research, long before anyone imagined an Internet, that many managers choose to be interrupted. Digital communication bolsters this. No one forces any manager to check messages the moment they arrive, nor to reply immediately to ones that don’t require it. One CEO told an interviewer: “You can never escape. You can’t go anywhere to contemplate, or think.” But of course you can. You can go anywhere you please.

The Orientation to Action  

Internet connectivity has not reduced managers’ orientation to action—and their disinclination to engage in reflection. Quite the contrary: everything has to be fast, fast, now, now. How ironic that heavier reliance on information technology, which is literally removed from the action (picture the manager facing a screen), likely exacerbates the action orientation of managing. With all those electrons flying about, the hyperactivity gets worse, not better. (Check your messages Sunday night, because your boss—or maybe that’s you—may have called a meeting for Monday morning.)

The Oral Nature of Managing  

Of course, more time reading on the screen and writing on the keyboard means less time spent talking and listening to people. There are only so many hours in every day. Yes, 24! How many more of these are now devoted to such reading and writing in addition to the usual talking and listening, at the expense of sleeping and being with the kids?

Moreover, text-based vehicles like e-mail are thin—limited to the poverty of words alone. There is no tone of voice to hear, no gestures to see, no presence to feel. Managing depends on this information too. On the telephone, people laugh, interrupt, grunt; in meetings, they nod in agreement or nod off in distraction. Effective managers pick up on such clues. But with e-mail, you don’t quite know how someone has reacted until the reply comes back, and even then you cannot be sure if the words were chosen carefully or sent in haste. A senior governmental official I met boasted that he kept in touch with his staff by e-mail early every morning. In touch with a keyboard perhaps, but with his staff?

The Lateral Nature of the Job  

Finally, digital communications technologies, and in particular the social media, push the lateral tendencies of managing further by making it easier to establish new contacts and keep “in touch” with existing ones. The people who report to a manager are few and fixed compared with any manager’s network of external contacts. This is exaggerated today, thanks to the capacity of the social media to extend these networks far and wide. The common result of this is that managers’ own reports may be getting less of their time—in quality as well as quantity. (A later TWOG on Managing in the Digital Age will revisit this point under the title “Networks are not Communities.”) 

Over the Edge?  

As usual, the devil of new technologies can be found in the details. Changes of degree can have profound effects, amounting to changes of kind. When hectic becomes frenetic, managers lose it and become a menace to what is around them. The Internet, by giving the illusion of control, may in fact be robbing many managers of control over their own work.

The characteristics of managing described at the outset are normal only within limits. Exceed them, and the practice of managing can become dysfunctional. Put differently, this digital age may be driving much management practice over the edge, making it too remote and too superficial.

Perhaps the ultimately connected manager has become disconnected from what matters. Might the new technologies, therefore, by undermining much managing, be impoverishing our organizations and our societies? We don’t yet know—there is more inclination to glorify new technologies than to investigate them. But look around you—at a colleague who burned out, at a boss who drives everyone crazy, at yourself and the kids you may rarely see.

Then consider this: are these tools augmenting our best qualities or our worst? Each of us, manager or not, can be mesmerized by these technologies, and so let them manage us. Or we can understand their dangers as well as their delights, and so manage them.

 © Henry Mintzberg 2015. Versions of this post appeared earlier this week on the Harvard Business Review and Global Drucker Forum sites. It is one in a series of perspectives by presenters and participants in the 7th Global Drucker Forum, taking place 5-6 November in Vienna, under the theme: Claiming Our Humanity — Managing in the Digital Age.

If You Can’t Measure It, You’d Better Manage It.

28 May 2015

Wait, that’s not it. It’s supposed to be: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This is sheer nonsense. If you believe it, get out of management before you do more harm. Or else read on.

Have you ever seen an acceptable measure of culture? Does that mean we can’t manage culture, and so better get rid of it in our organizations? Measuring the market for a novel product is notoriously difficult. Must we get rid of novel products?

And who ever came up with a reliable measure for the performance of management? (Don’t tell me that change in stock price does that.) Indeed, who ever even tried to measure the performance of measurement itself, beyond assuming it is wonderful? So out the window will have to go management and measurement too. We might as well all retire into our laptops.

Wait, that’s not it. It’s supposed to be: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This is sheer nonsense. If you believe it, get out of management before you do more harm. Or else read on.

Have you ever seen an acceptable measure of culture? Does that mean we can’t manage culture, and so better get rid of it in our organizations? Measuring the market for a novel product is notoriously difficult. Must we get rid of novel products?

And who ever came up with a reliable measure for the performance of management? (Don’t tell me that change in stock price does that.) Indeed, who ever even tried to measure the performance of measurement itself, beyond assuming it is wonderful? So out the window will have to go management and measurement too. We might as well all retire into our laptops.

Someone I know once asked a most senior British civil servant why his department had to do so much measuring. His reply: “What else can we do when we don’t know what’s going on?” Did he ever try getting on the ground to find out what’s going on? And then using judgment to assess that? (Remember judgment? It’s still in the dictionary.)

Measuring as a replacement for managing has done enormous damage—undermining the souls of so many of our institutions (as discussed in last week’s TWOG). Think of how much education has been killed by assuming that we can measure what a child learns in a classroom. (I defy anyone to measure learning. You are reading this TWOG: please measure what you are learning.) Must we always deflect teaching from engaging students to examining them?

Health care has likewise suffered from this cult of obsessive measuring, and not only at the hands of governments. Insurance companies and HMOs, online lenders, etc., as well as physicians obsessed with “evidence-based medicine”, have been just as guilty. And let’s not stop there. This “managing-it-by-measuring-it” has been destroying companies left and right. Amidst all the numbers, where are the new products, what’s the state of the culture?

Measuring as a complement to managing is a fine idea: measure what you can; take seriously what you can’t; and manage both thoughtfully. In other words: If you can’t measure it, you’ll have to manage it. If you can measure it, you’ll especially have to manage it. Have we not had enough of leadership by remote control: sitting in executive offices and running the numbers—all that deeming and downsizing

Last weekend I tweeted proudly that I hit 5000 followers on Twitter. Soon after came a tweet from Suzanne Long (@suzannelong) of Toronto: “Pssst. It's more about whether people read or otherwise engage w/ your tweets that actually counts ...” Ye gods: I have met the enemy and he is not Suzanne Long. Now I’ll have to read this TWOG.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015.

HM works with practicing managers in the IMPM.org, which seeks to change all this. A forthcoming TWOG will discuss “The soft underbelly of hard data”, and why we are so mesmerized by measurement.

The Epidemic of Managing without Soul

21 May 2015

My daughter Lisa once left me a note in a shoe that read “Souls need fixing.” Little did she know…

A tale of two nurses 

When we asked the members of our new health care management class (imhl.org) to share stories about their experiences, an obstetrician told one about the time when, as a resident, he was shuttling between the wards of different hospitals. One stood out: he and his colleagues “loved working there.” It was a “happy” place, thanks to a head nurse who cared. She was understanding, respectful of everyone, intent on promoting collaboration between doctors and nurses. The place had soul.

My daughter Lisa once left me a note in a shoe that read “Souls need fixing.” Little did she know…

A tale of two nurses 

When we asked the members of our new health care management class (imhl.org) to share stories about their experiences, an obstetrician told one about the time when, as a resident, he was shuttling between the wards of different hospitals. One stood out: he and his colleagues “loved working there.” It was a “happy” place, thanks to a head nurse who cared. She was understanding, respectful of everyone, intent on promoting collaboration between doctors and nurses. The place had soul.

Then she retired, and was replaced by someone very qualified in nursing, with an MBA. Without “any conversation…she started questioning everything.” She was strict with the nurses, for example arriving early to check who came late. Where there used to be chatting and laughing before the start of shifts, “it became normal for us to see one nurse crying” because of some comment by the boss.

Morale plummeted, and soon that spread to the physicians: “It took 2-3 months to destroy that amazing family…. We used to compete to go to that hospital; [then] we didn’t want to go there any more.” Yet “the higher authority didn’t intervene or maybe was not aware” of what was going on. They were no better.

The Epidemic 

How often have you heard such a story, or worse, experienced one? In the work that I do—studying management and organizations—I hear them often (in a recent week, four times). And no few are about CEOs. Managing without soul has become an epidemic in society: managers who specialize in killing cultures, at the expense of human engagement.

There are schools that teach this, but I won’t name names for fear of insulting colleagues in prominent places. Out of them come graduates with a distorted impression of management: detached, generic, technocratic. They are taught to believe they can manage anything, whether or not they have serious knowledge of the context. This technocratic detachment is bad enough—numbers, numbers. numbers. The worst of it is also mean-spirited, by bullying people and playing them off against each other. One person, bullied for years by a nasty boss, said: “It’s the little things that wear you down.” These managers care for nothing but themselves.

Why do we tolerate this? Why do we allow narcissists with credentials, posing as leaders, to bring down so many of our institutions? Souls need fixing all right.

Part of the problem is that people are generally selected into managerial positions by “superiors” (senior managers, boards of directors), often with no idea about the damage caused by their decisions. And so we often get what have been called “kiss up and kick down” managers—terribly able to impress “superiors” while terribly incapable of respecting “subordinates.”

A hotel with soul 

Last week I was in England for meetings about our International Masters in Practicing Management (impm.org—it’s been designed to reverse this epidemic). We stayed at one of those corporate hotels—I hated it from years ago, no spirit, no soul. I recall the high turnover of staff, and one year when they charged our Japanese participants $10 per minute for calls back home—minutes that a participant from British Telecom estimated to cost the hotel pennies.

Lisa is in England, and so after the meetings we went travelling in the Lake District, a great place to hike. The IMPM is to run in October in a hotel there that we haven’t used before, so Lisa and I volunteered to check it out.

I walked in and fell in love with the place. Beautifully appointed, perfectly cared for, a genuinely attentive staff—this place was loaded with soul. I’ve been in the business of studying organizations for so long that I can often walk into a place and sense soul, or no soul, in an instant. I can feel the energy of the place, or the lethargy; the instant smile instead of some grin from a “greeter”; honest concern instead of programmed “care.” (“We appreciate your business!!” as you wait for someone to answer the phone. This means “Our time is more important than yours.”) 

”What’s it mean to have soul?” Lisa asked. “You know it when you see it,” I replied. In every little corner. I asked a waiter about hiking trails. He didn’t know so he fetched the manager of the hotel to tell me. I chatted with a young woman at reception. “The throw pillows on the bed are really beautiful,” I said. “Yes,” she replied, "the owner cares for every detail—she picked those pillows herself.”  How long have you been here?” I asked. Four years, she said proudly, and then rattled off the tenures of the senior staff: the manager 14 years, the assistant manager 12 years, the head of sales a little less, and so on.

Why can’t all organizations be like this? Most people—employees, customers, managers—want to care, given half a chance. We human beings have souls, and so too can our hospitals and hotels. Why do we build so many great institutions only to let them wither under the control of people who should never have been allowed to manage anything? Management needs fixing all right, and so do the souls of our societies.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015  

Forthcoming: how management education can become part of the solution, instead of the problem.  Related TWOGS: “Five easy steps to destroying your organization”, “Celebrating the flawed manager”, and “Managing to lead”. Also see my book Simply Managing, which discusses how else to select managers (on pages 161-164).

 

Managing to Lead

19 February 2015

Last week I proposed just enough leadership, for the sake of enhancing communityship. This week I propose an end to the belief that leadership is separate from management, and superior to it. This is damaging management all right, but leadership more so.

The fashionable depiction sees managers as doing things right while leaders do the right thing.1 It sounds good, until you try to tell the difference when observing the work of someone who is successful. Here’s an example from my book Simply Managing2:

Last week I proposed just enough leadership, for the sake of enhancing communityship. This week I propose an end to the belief that leadership is separate from management, and superior to it. This is damaging management all right, but leadership more so.

The fashionable depiction sees managers as doing things right while leaders do the right thing.1 It sounds good, until you try to tell the difference when observing the work of someone who is successful. Here’s an example from my book Simply Managing2:

John Cleghorn, as CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, developed a reputation in his company for calling the office on his way to the airport to report a broken ATM machine, and such things. This bank had thousands of such machines. Was John micromanaging? Maybe he was setting an example that others should follow: keep your eyes open for such problems.

Have you ever been managed by someone who didn’t lead? That must have been awfully discouraging. Well, how about being lead by someone who didn’t manage? That could have been much worse. How is such a “leader” to know what’s going on? As Jim March of the Stanford Business School put it: “Leadership involves plumbing as well as poetry.”3

So let’s get beneath the cloud of leadership theory, to the ground of management practice. Maybe then more so-called leaders will do the right thing, namely cease leading by remote control, disconnected from everything except the “big picture.” In fact, how are they to create even that? Big pictures have to be painted with the brushstrokes of grounded experience.

It has also become fashionable to complain that we are being over-managed and under-led. The opposite is now a greater problem: we have too much heroic leadership and not enough engaging management. We need to recognize that some of the best leadership is management practiced well, also that anyone with ideas and initiative can exercise leadership. Thus, to conclude, here is a comparison of engaging management with heroic leadership. Take your choice.

Two Ways to Manage
Heroic Leadership Engaging Management
1.Leaders are important people, quite apart from others who develop products and deliver services. 1.Managers are important to the extent that they help other people to be important.
2.The higher “up” these leaders go, the more important they become. At the “top” the CEO is the organization. 2.An organization is an interacting network, not a vertical hierarchy. Effective managers work throughout; the don’t sit “on top”.
3.Down the hierarchy comes the strategy—clear, deliberate, and bold—emanating from the chief who takes the dramatic acts. Everyone else “implements.” 3.Out of the network emerge strategies, as engaged people solve little problems that can grow into big initiatives.
4.To lead is to make decisions and allocate resources—including those human resources. Leadership thus means calculating, based on facts, from reports. 4.To manage is to help bring out the energy that exists naturally within people. Managing thus means engaging, based on judgment, rooted in context.
5.Leadership is thrust upon those who thrust their will on others. 5.Leadership is a sacred trust earned from the respect of others.

If you remain unconvinced, and are determined to be a heroic leader, please read the following box. (It is written for business, but those in government and NGOs will get the idea.)

Rules for being a Heroic Leader

  • Change everything all the time. In particular, reorganize constantly, to keep everyone on their toes (rather than firmly planted on their feet). Do not change this behavior no matter what the consequences.

  • Beware of insiders: anyone who knows the place is suspect. Bring in a whole new “top team.” And rely on consultants—they may not know the business, but they do appreciate heroic leaders.

  • Focus on the present: Do that dramatic deal now! The past is dead, the future distant (and beyond bonuses). It’s best to ignore the existing business and especially its culture--anything established takes time to change. Instead merge like mad, with the devils you don’t know. This is sure to catch the attention of stock market analysts and traders. (Ignore the risks: your golden parachute will save you.)

  • Emphasize the numbers. That way you don’t have to manage performance so much as deem it. Likewise, arrange to be paid several hundred times as much as your mere employees, to announce how much more important you are. That’s leadership! Then, get that stock price up, guaranteed cash in, and run. Heroes are in great demand.

1. Bennis, W.G. (1989) On Becoming a Leader (Perseus Books) and Zaleznik, A. (1977) Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? Harvard Business Review, May–June 1977

2. I observed 29 managers for a each: Mintzberg, H. (2013). Simply Managing (Berrett-Koehler). Order from Berrett Koehler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble.

3. in Augier (2004)\ James March on Education, Leadership, and Don Quixote: Introduction and Interview. Academy of Management Learning and Education (p. 173).

© Henry Mintzberg 2015

Celebrating the Flawed Manager

31 October 2014

What makes a manager effective? The answer awaits you on all kinds of little lists. (Who would take dozens of items seriously?) For example, in replying to “What Makes a Leader?”1 a University of Toronto EMBA brochure listed: “The courage to challenge the status quo. To flourish in a demanding environment. To collaborate for the greater good. To set clear direction in a rapidly changing world. To be fearlessly decisive.”

The trouble with these little lists is that they are always incomplete. For example, where on this one is basic intelligence, or being a good listener? Fear not—these appear on other lists. So if we are to trust any of these lists, we shall have to combine all of them.

What makes a manager effective? The answer awaits you on all kinds of little lists. (Who would take dozens of items seriously?) For example, in replying to “What Makes a Leader?”1 a University of Toronto EMBA brochure listed: “The courage to challenge the status quo. To flourish in a demanding environment. To collaborate for the greater good. To set clear direction in a rapidly changing world. To be fearlessly decisive.”

The trouble with these little lists is that they are always incomplete. For example, where on this one is basic intelligence, or being a good listener? Fear not—these appear on other lists. So if we are to trust any of these lists, we shall have to combine all of them.

This, for the sake of a better world, I have done in a table, included at the end of this TWOG. (Read the footnote if you wish to be especially amused.) It lists 52 qualities from various lists that I have found, plus a few missing favorites of my own. Be all 52 and you are bound to be a terribly effective manager. Even if not a human one.

The Inevitably Flawed Manager

All of this is part of our romance of leadership, that puts ordinary mortals on pedestals—“Rudolph is the perfect person for the job: he will save us!”—and then allows us to vilify them as they come crashing down—“How could Rudolph have failed us so?” Yet some managers do stay up, if not on that silly pedestal. How so?

The answer is simple: Successful managers are flawed—we are all flawed—but their particular flaws are not fatal under the circumstances. (Superman was flawed, too—remember Kryptonite?). Same thing for successful marriages: reasonable human beings find ways to live with each other’s reasonable flaws.

Fatally flawed are those superman lists of managerial qualities, because they are utopian—and often wrong. For example, managers should be “fearlessly decisive”: who can argue with that? For starters, anyone who watched George W. Bush lead (but not manage) the American march into Iraq. Or how about Osama Bin Laden, who “had the courage to challenge the status quo”? Ingvar Kamprad, who built IKEA into one of the most successful retail chains ever, needed fifteen years to “set clear direction in a rapidly changing world.” Actually, he succeeded because the furniture world was not changing rapidly; IKEA changed it.

Choosing the Devil you had better get to know

If everyone’s flaws come out sooner or later, then to avoid failed managers, not to mention failed marriages, sooner is better. So managers, like spouses, should be selected for their flaws as much as for their qualities. Unfortunately we have this tendency to ignore the flaws and focus on the qualities, often just one: “Sally’s a great networker” or “Joe’s a visionary,” especially if the failed predecessor was a lousy networker or devoid of strategic vision. (As for marriages, when meeting a possible new mate, the usual refrain is: “Thank goodness he/she is not [fill in whatever was wrong with the last one].” In actual fact, he or she will prove to have some remarkable new flaw that you could never have imagined.)

There are really only two ways to uncover a person’s flaws: marry them or work for them. But who among the people who have to select managers—board members for chief executives, “superior” managers for “subordinate” ones (what awful terms)—have ever worked for the candidates, let alone been married to them? What can they possibly know about these candidates’ flaws? The consequence is that many of their choices end up as “kiss up and kick down” managers: smooth-talking and overconfident, great at impressing “superiors” but hardly leaders in managing whoever they see as subordinate.

What, then, are the poor, beleaguered “superiors” to do? That’s easy: get past their superiority, and themselves, to the people who know the candidates best. They can’t exactly ask people who have been married to the candidates, because spouses will be biased and ex-spouses will be more biased. But they can get the opinions of people who have worked for these candidates. I’m not one for simple prescriptions in management, but if one change could improve the practice of managing monumentally, it is giving voice in selection processes to those people who know the candidates best, namely the ones who have been managed by them.

As for your personal decisions, if you happen to be flawed, fear not. Just choose, with great care: your fabulously flawed job, your forbiddingly flawed boss, and your faithfully flawed spouse.

This TWOG has been adapted from the last chapter of my book Simply Managing (Berrett-Koehler and Pearson, 2013) amazon.com | amazon.co.uk

For all these TWOGS (from tweet2blog, @mintzberg141) since 2 September 2014, please see www.mintzberg.org/blog. To receive regular notifications of new ones, please write to henry.mintzberg@mcgll.ca with “blog” in the subject.

References: Meindel, J.R., Ehrlich, S.B., & Dukerich, J.M. (1985). The Romance of Leadership. Administrative Science Quarterly, 30, 78-102.

Gowin, E.B. (1920). The Executive and His Control of Men: A Study in Personal Efficiency. New York: Macmillan.

Composite List of Basic Qualities for Assured Managerial Success
  • courageous
  • committed
  • curious
  • confident
  • candid
  • reflective
  • insightful
  • open-minded/tolerant (of people, ambiguities, and ideas)
  • innovative
  • communicative (including being a good listener)
  • connected/informed
  • perceptive
  • thoughtful/intelligent/wise
  • analytic/objective
  • pragmatic
  • decisive (action-oriented)
  • proactive
  • charismatic
  • passionate
  • inspiring
  • visionary
  • energetic/enthusiastic
  • upbeat/optimistic
  • ambitious
  • tenacious/persistent/zealous
  • collaborative/participative/cooperative
  • engaging
  • supportive/sympathetic/empathetic
  • stable
  • dependable
  • fair
  • accountable
  • ethical/honest
  • consistent
  • flexible
  • balanced
  • integrative
  • tall*

Source: Compiled from various sources; my own favorites in italics.

*This item appeared on no list that I saw. But it might rank ahead of many of the other items because studies have shown that managers are on average taller than other people. To quote from a 1920 study, entitled The Executive and His Control of Men, based on research done a lot more carefully than much of what we find in the great journals of today, Enoch Burton Gowin addressed the question “Viewing it as a chemical machine, is a larger body able to supply a greater amount of energy?” More specifically, might there be “some connection between an executive’s physique, as measured by height and weight, and the importance of the position he holds?” (1920:22, 31). The answer, in statistic after statistic gathered by the author, is yes. Bishops, for example, averaged greater height than the preachers of small towns; superintendents of school systems were taller than principals of schools. Other data on railroad executives, governors, etc., supported these findings. The “Super-intendents of Street Cleaning” were actually the second tallest of all, after the “Reformers.” (The “Socialist Organizers” were just behind the “police chiefs” but well up there.) Musicians were at the bottom of the list (p. 25).

1. Good leaders manage, good managers lead, as we shall discuss in a later TWOG.

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg

A CEO letter to the Board…long overdue

24 October 2014

This began as an imaginary letter that I first drafted in the 1990s, and published in the Financial Times on 29 October 1999. It has been revised for this TWOG.

Dear Members of the Board

I am writing to you with a proposal that may seem radical, but is in fact conservative. That is because my primary concern as Chief Executive Officer of this company is to conserve it as a healthy enterprise. You are now paying me so much that I can no longer run this company as I should. I hereby request, therefore, that you cut my salary in half and eliminate my bonuses.

This began as an imaginary letter that I first drafted in the 1990s, and published in the Financial Times on 29 October 1999. It has been revised for this TWOG.

Dear Members of the Board

I am writing to you with a proposal that may seem radical, but is in fact conservative. That is because my primary concern as Chief Executive Officer of this company is to conserve it as a healthy enterprise. You are now paying me so much that I can no longer run this company as I should. I hereby request, therefore, that you cut my salary in half and eliminate my bonuses.

We have talked a great deal about teamwork in our enterprise, that all our people are in this together. So why I am singled out by virtue of my compensation? Bonuses are the worst part of it. Like everyone else in this company, I am being paid to do my job. Why should I be paid extra to do a good job? If I believe in this company, I’ll buy its stock. If I don’t, I’ll quit my job. The misguided assumption behind these bonuses is that the CEO does it all. (I recall a claim in Fortune Magazine some time ago that in four years, its CEO had “added more than $40 billion to IBM’s share value.” All by himself!)

Now I am getting hate mail from employees about my pay. This is certainly disconcerting, but more troublesome is that I have no reasonable reply to them, other than to claim that I am several hundred times more important than they are. Is this leadership? Is it any way to run a company?

We have had a good deal of discussion at our meetings about the long-term health of this company. Why then am I being rewarded for short-term gains in the stock price? You all know perfectly well that I can use all kinds of tricks to drive up that price, and so drive up my bonuses.

Ever since we started this Shareholder Value nonsense, our culture has gone to hell. The frontline employees tell me this gets in the way of serving customers: they are forced to see dollar signs out there, not people. Consequently, many of them don’t give a damn any more. As one put it to me recently: “With all this counting, we don’t count any more. So why should we care?”

I have always prided myself in being a risk taker; that is one reason you put me in this job. So how come I cash in big when the stock price goes up but pay nothing back when it goes down? Some risk taker! You know what: I’m tired of being a hypocrite.

I know the line we have been using all along: that I am being compensated in this way to keep up with CEOs in comparable corporations. This makes me a follower, not a leader.  Enough of this complicity in behavior that we all know to be outrageous. My salary should not be some kind of external trophy, but an internal signal about the culture we are trying to build.

So please, help me concentrate on managing this company as it should be managed.

Sincerely,

Your CEO

P.S. I shall be moving out of my office, way up there on the top floor. I don’t want to be a “top manager”; I want to manage on the ground, where we make our products and serve our customers. This seems to have worked out well for Steve Jobs.

For a much longer piece on what’s wrong with executive compensation, see my article “No more executive bonuses!” in The Wall Street Journal, 30 November 2009 

For all my TWOGS (from tweet2blog, @mintzberg141) since 2 September 2014, please see www.mintzberg.org/blog.

If you wish to be notified of new blogs, please email henry.mintzberg@mcgill.ca with "blog" in the subject.

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg

Decision Making: It’s not what we think. It’s also what we see. And what we do too.

26 September 2014

So how do we make decisions? That’s easy. First we diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next we design (identify possible solutions), then we decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally we do (carry that choice into action). In other words, we think in order to act: I call this thinking first.

So how do we make decisions? That’s easy. First we diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next we design (identify possible solutions), then we decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally we do (carry that choice into action). In other words, we think in order to act: I call this thinking first.

So let’s take a decision that was hardly incidental in your life: finding your mate. Did you think first? Following this model, let’s say as a male, first you make a list of what you are looking for in a woman, say brilliant, beautiful, and bashful. Then you list all the possible candidates. Next comes the analysis: you score each candidate (so to speak), on all the criteria. Finally, you add up all the scores to find out who has won, and inform the lucky lady. Except then she informs you that “While you were going through all this, I got married and now have a couple of kids.” Thinking first does have its drawbacks--although arranged marriages in India kind of work like this, and many do work quite well. (You may wish to consider this the next time around.)

So chances are that you proceeded in a different way, like my father, who announced to my grandmother that “Today I met the woman I’m going to marry!” And that he did. There was not a lot of analysis in this decision, I assure you, but it worked out well—a long and happy marriage ensued.

This is known as “love at first sight”; as a model of decision making, I call it seeing first. Even some rather formal decisions happen this way—for example, deciding to hire someone two seconds into the interview, or buying a company because you like the looks of the place. These are not necessarily whims; they can be insights.

But not so fast: there’s a slower and sometimes more sensible way to make decisions. I call it doing first. I’ll leave how that works in finding a mate to your imagination. Suffice it to say that when you’re not sure how to proceed—often the case in making decisions big and small—then you will just have to do, in order to think, instead of thinking, in order to do. You try something in a limited way to see if it might work, and if it doesn’t, you try something else until you find what work. Start small to learn big.

Of course, this can have its drawbacks too. As Terry Connolly, a professor who studies decision making, quipped: “Nuclear wars and childbearing decisions are poor settings for a strategy of ‘try a little one and see how it goes.’” But there are lots of other decisions for which that proves to be a perfectly good strategy. IKEA came up with selling its furniture unassembled after a worker had to take the legs off a table in order to get it in his car. “If we have to do this, what do we think about our customers…?” Rest assured that IKEA must have tried this on a few products before it changed many of them.

So, have you an important decision to make? Good. Hold those thoughts! Look around! Do something! Then you may find yourself thinking differently.

(For more on this and related topics, see the book by Brice Ahlstrand, Joseph Lampel, and myself entitled Management: It’s not what you think (Amazon and Pearson, 2010).

Reference: Terry Connolly “On Taking Action Seriously” in G.N.Undon and D.N.Brunstein eds. Decision-Making: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry (Boston: Kent, 1982:45)

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg