Musings on management

The hype about management lacks common sense, as does too much of the practice

Henry Mintzberg.
Henry Mintzberg.

Management is a curious phenomenon. It is generously paid, enormously influential, and significantly devoid of common sense.

At least, the hype about management lacks common sense, as does too much of the practice. I should really say im-practice, because the problems grow out of the disconnection between management and the managed.

The disconnection occurs when management is treated as an end in itself instead of as a service to organizations and their customers.

These concerns had been building in my mind for years when a particular event caused them to gel. I had been asked to give a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 1995; so I visited managing director Maria Cattaui in her office near Geneva to discuss possible topics. I first proposed a presentation on government and suggested she allot me the better part of an hour to cover the topic properly. “I would really prefer you do something on management,” she replied. “And besides, many chief executives tend to have an attention span of about 15 minutes.”

I went home, thought about this, and decided to respond in kind. It was a perfect opportunity. I listed 10 points on one sheet of paper under the label “Musings on Management” and faxed it to Maria Cattaui. Fortunately, she was open-minded—indeed, enthusiastic. So that was what I presented at Davos: 10 points, by then reduced to 10 minutes, one musing on management per minute.

The Harvard Business Review being even more open-minded, I can now develop my musings at somewhat greater length. Readers should be warned, however, that I will insult almost everyone in one way or another.

I must apologize to those I miss, for the object of my exercise is to shake us all out of the complacency that surrounds too much of the practice of management today, a practice that I believe is undermining many of our organizations and hence our society. We had better take a good look at what is wrong with this hype called management.

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