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Management under pressure – time for a rethink

You don’t need to go too far these days to find evidence that management is under pressure. Mostly it’s getting a bad rap from some ill equipped or egotistical CEO. Look no further than Better.com CEO Vishal Garg who has now taken indefinite leave of absence for the way he treated 900 employees whom he laid off.

Recent history is littered with examples like this, many of them coming from Silicon Valley. And as this article published in TechCrunch just yesterday points out, The truth about management in Silicon Valley: It doesn’t exist.

Anyone at the hands of a bad manager will testify that this is a scourge of epic proportion. That employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers has become a truism in modern times.

But that’s not the kind of pressure I’m talking about.

Managers not needed

I read an article recently that reminded me of a recent stream of thinking that has been popular – that managers are not needed.

Or at least not in any traditional form. Take the case of Holacracy that has become somewhat of a movement in recent years – more on the principles here: Holacracy – Wikipedia.

The article I’m referring to is rooted on the very practical case of a successful company: Can Firms Succeed Without Managers? The Case Of Haier.

I’ve noted Haier’s successes before and included then in my trend report on companies thinking innovatively and behaving like startups: Startup Innovation.

The article by well known management thinker and strategist Steve Denning, explains how Haier is “abolishing almost all of its 12,000 managerial positions and reorganizing some 70,000 staff into some 4,000 micro-enterprises”. 

What he focuses on though is how this works for them, notably that “Haier has been consistently ranked as the number one brand globally in major appliances since 2009″. And that “in 2021, Haier Smart Home ranked #405 on Fortune’s Global 500 list with a revenue of some $28 billion”. 

Management needs to innovate

Another angle is from another well known management thinker and strategist, Gary Hamel, who has long pushed the view that if managers are still needed, at the very least they need to up their innovation ante.

The chart below shows how management thinking has gone through an S curve from the time that management first became a practice in any kind of formal or theoretical form.

Since then there have been many innovations but these have now plateaued and in the last few decades, have really not amounted to much.

Click to Enlarge

For me its either do (innovate) or die (get rid of the practice as we know it and move to something more akin to what Haier is doing). Either option works (you could even argue they are essentially the same) but the point is change is desperately needed.

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