Management, Hierarchy, and Bureaucracy

Gary Hammel’s recent Harvard Business Review cover story First, Let’s Fire All the Managers is packed with great one liners on management today. While this blog was designed to focus on new management practices leveraging digital technologies, many recent posts have focused on the management aspects.  I believe the Pentagon has some fundamental bureaucratic culture issues that must be addressed before any technological solutions can be introduced. Here are a few nuggets from the article:

  • Management is the least efficient activity in your organization.
  • Inefficiency stems from a top-heavy management model that is cumbersome and costly.
  • A hierarchy of managers exacts a hefty tax on any organization.
  • The most powerful managers are the ones furthest from frontline realities.
  • Decisions made on an Olympian peak prove to be unworkable on the ground.
  • Control is the philosophical cornerstone of bureaucracy.
  • In a bureaucracy, managers are enforcers who ensure that employees follow rules, adhere to standards, and meet budgets.
These points should be eerily familiar to those working in the five-sided puzzle palace.

Gary’s article then profiles a leading California tomato company that has successfully operated for decades without managers.  Employees have broad freedoms to determine their workload and expenses, negotiate with each other on interactions and salaries, and focus on clear missions.  While this model is too radical for most companies, it’s a non-starter for DoD.  But he does pose some interesting questions that every organization should think about:

  • Wouldn’t it be great if we could achieve high levels of coordination without a supervisory superstructure?
  • Wouldn’t it be terrific if we could get the freedom and flexibility of an open market with the control and coordination of a tightly knit hierarchy?

Now this is where digital enterprise collaboration tools enable a modern culture to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness.  While managers aren’t going to be replaced by machines (entirely), organizations that effectively integrate IT tools can share knowledge, address issues, and develop innovative solutions faster and cheaper while reducing the bureaucratic hierarchy.

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