Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Subtle Takeover

I'm a subscriber to a "Daily Dilbert" and have been for a long time. Today's strip (July 17, 2012) is a gem. The pointy haired 'Boss' is addressed by his 'secretary' along the lines of, 'he only does what she tells him to do, and the economic devaluation of property puts her relative earnings on a par with his.' He asks, "And your point is?"

Her response is telling. "It's as if you work for me now."

For some years I watched the slow replacement of technocrats in management positions by people waving "management" diplomas and degrees. None of these former filing clerks and secretaries actually had a clue what the people they "managed" did, or how they did it, but, hey! we were constantly told they didn't need to know, they were there to "make our jobs easier" and "facilitate our being able to 'focus' on our work." The strange thing was that our workloads increased as this happened, and not in our specialist fields. If anything, our 'focus' on our specialisms suffered, because now we were constantly filling in forms, or writing reports or 'business cases' for our "managers" in order to allow them to "measure" what we were achieving. Or not.

I know I am not alone in finding that where, in the past, I'd gone to my technocrat boss, made a case for buying some equipment or doing something in a different manner, now I spent several days writing a request just to discuss it. In the past, if I made my case effectively, the boss looked up the budget and, if we had the necessary funds, agreed an allocation, and approved it. Now, I had to draw up a specification, then a business case and finally a report for consideration by a board. Usually after many 'amendments, clarifications and further explanations, might get approval to do it. Or, as often as not, got told I couldn't have the money this year, and would I take this up again next year.

Several times I discovered that money I could have used from the budget had been 'earmarked' for some more 'clerical' support. That invariably made my blood boil, especially as it was money originally budgeted for more teaching or technical support. Again, I'm not alone in discovering this, and it isn't confined to the UK either, it is right through the Western democracies.

There was another change as the "management" became more "manager" and less "technocrat." This occured at the secretarial level. Suddenly they became "Personal Assistants" and very clearly a barrier to any nasty hands on techy types who might want to approach the "manager." Where, before, the management had always wanted to talk to the techies, in fact found it useful and productive to do so, now management didn't want to talk to us because, in all likelihood, we would tell them things they didn't want to hear, or, worse, talk about things they had no knowledge of or which would expose their ignorance.

I have said this before, and I have never been popular for saying it, even when I taught management and leadership. Management is NOT a profession. It is a function of a profession, any profession.

It is a skill which must be learned, but the "manager" of a cleaning operation cannot transfer to "manage" a chemical factory and vice versa. That is where the sort of 'accident' that was the Chernobyl failure begins and lays. Not everyone who is a "techy" has the skills to be a top manager or even a middle manager, but to place someone who is without any knowledge of the functions and operations to be managed in a position of authority over those who do is not just stupid, it is utterly self-defeating.

Today's comic strip sums up exactly what has happened in commerce and industry across the west in the last 30 - 40 years, managers are now accountants, secretaries and filing clerks attempting to manage and direct professionals in all the technical fields - and they haven't a clue what they are doing. Worse, in order to "manage" they fall back on bureaucratic practices, bullying and barriers. It will destroy far more of our economies than it will save and, in the end, it will require their ejection from the offices they have usurped.

Hopefully that will happen before it has reached the point of collapse.


  1. I agree though I believe that those in management should take classes on how to handle their employees. It changes when you become management. You can't be 'one of the boys' anymore. And yes, it should be one of the boys that gets promoted and THEN Trained. Not a PhD that becomes a manager. Then learns the field.

  2. There is a lot to be said for starting at the bottom of an organisation and having to work your way up. For one thing you learn what the organisation is about and where the 'choke' points are. The PhD/MBA/DMA parachutes in at the top and never gets to know how Joe Soap actually does what the company/organisation provides - worse, all to often they arrive with grand ideas and impose their plans without attempting to win hearts and minds or check whether what they want is a good idea or simply a disaster looking for a place.

    These are the real 'Seagull' managers - arrive, make a lot of noise and depart, leaving behind a stinking mess.

  3. Working at the bottom and rising to the top is indeed a good thing. There used to be much hoo-ha about something known as 'Total Quality Management', where it was necessary for managers to be au fait with all aspects of the organisation they were working for. That's something that never seemed to take off in the UK, but I understand that companies like BMW have engineers on the board of directors, which must be useful. Unfortunately, in the UK we have the worst of all worlds when we have complete numpties in charge of things like, er, the economy, or defence, or health, education, etc. They're called politicians! And their useful idiots in the civil service aren't much better, even if they're qualified to the hilt!

    Slim Jim