MANAGERIALISM – SCOURGE OF BUSINESS

 

Stephen Kinnock, son of Neil, wants to become an MP, having done his time in the world of work, we are told.  It turns out he is “employed by business advisory service Xynteo”.  I could do some research but I think we can all have a good guess at what Xynteo and its agents do.

My only comment is to post here, from my old steam scrapbooks, some quotes from Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph, May 2012, identifying the “march of the managerialists” ….

 

Recently, a man got in touch with me who works for the defence services contractor QinetiQ. He wanted to complain about the way it was run. The company, in his view, suffers from “managerialism”.

Managerialists, he says, are “a group who consider themselves separate from the organisations they join”. They are not interested in the content of the work their organisation performs. They are a caste of people who think they know how to manage. They have studied “The 24-hour MBA”. There is a clear benefit from their management, for them: they arrange their own very high salaries and bonuses. Then they can leave quickly with something that looks good on the CV. The benefit to the company is less clear.

I also spoke to a former senior employee of QinetiQ. He corroborated my informant’s points with gusto. He said managerialists were particularly unsuited to industries such as QinetiQ’s, where scientific knowledge is all. He put it simply: “People who are making bits of technology, or servicing them, should know about technology.”

Skills are not infinitely transferable. “You used to be the editor of a broadsheet newspaper,” he said to me. “How do you think a former chief executive of Ford would perform if he suddenly came and edited a national title?” (or, he politely didn’t say, if the reverse were to happen).

The lack of knowledge at the top of a firm obviously creates a practical problem – “You don’t have people to get under the bonnet. They can only kick the tyres and change the oil.” They don’t understand the needs of the core customer. It also, in his view, creates a moral problem. The workers cannot respect their bosses. Management becomes “not symbiotic, but parasitic”.

One must also allow for the fact that, in any organisation, there are people with axes to grind. But I did find the way they talked striking. It seemed to accord with so many things I hear about life in so many organisations.

It is a big complaint, for example, about the modern National Health Service. Comparable problems afflict the Armed Forces. They have fought several wars in the past 15 years, dealing with a Ministry of Defence staffed by people who know nothing about war. More generally in the Civil Service, it has become common to reduce specialist skills – language training in the Foreign Office, for example – and to move able people around from department to department. The present permanent secretary of the Home Office had never worked there before she took her present post at the beginning of last year. Since it is a department of fantastic complexity, it is perhaps not surprising that it has recently taken a series of tumbles on such issues as deportations and borders.

You find this hollowing-out everywhere. In schools, the head who does not teach is now a familiar, indeed dominant figure. University vice-chancellors, instead of being dons who move from their subject into administration for a period of their lives, are now virtually lifelong managers, with hugely increased salaries to match. It is even commonplace for charities to be run by people with no commitment to the charity’s specific purpose, but proud possession of what they call the necessary “skill-sets”, such as corporate governance.

With the rise of the managerialist comes a special language – a weird combination of semi-spiritual banality (“unlocking energies”), euphemism, and legalese.

My friend at QinetiQ draws my attention to some of the usages which predominate where managerialism rules. The system of internal communications becomes a platform not for sharing knowledge but for propaganda. Human Resources invent things like the Personal Improvement Programme, which is really a means of punishing staff. “Consultation”, he says, is a word meaning that managerialists “tell you what they are going to do, 30 days before they do it”.

These habits are now pervasive across industry and the public services. “Diversity” is always “celebrated”, but it never means diversity of thought. The people who tell you they are “passionate about” X or Y are usually the most bloodless ones in the outfit.

In such cultures, just as the experts, the professionals and the technicians bitterly resent the managerialists for neither understanding nor caring, so the managerialists secretly detest the professionals who, they believe, get in the way of their rationalisations. They are desperate to “let go” of such people. Very unhappy organisations result.

Because, since the credit crunch, Everything Is Different Now, this problem is causing real social division. It explains much of the rage about executive pay. It is not so much the numerical difference between the top and the bottom which causes the anger, as the sense about why that difference exists. It has been arranged by the managerialists. It may even be the chief purpose of the managerialists’ working lives, as they edge towards the exit with the largest portable share of the takings available.

 

* Full article (and 657 comments) at http://tinyurl.com/8xqtwe9/

 

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