Are managers evil?
Managers, they say, are often bad in the US, and in the world. And there is some justification for this. And, of course, most managers are not evil. Although, like many of us, many might be badly trained.
Peter Drucker worked on this problem of managing. W. Edwards Deming had his ideas, and worked on this. And many, many business gurus have had their say, trying to improve the managers or managing. On the other hand, in the agile community a bunch of people feel managers are evil.
Maybe that is an exaggeration, but not much. Maybe most of them will not say ‘all managers are evil.’ But in general, they talk a lot about how evil managers are.
Of course I think that virtually all managers are not evil (although if there is evil, then surely a few managers are evil). More importantly, this talk of managers being evil is not helpful.
Equally, it is truly harmful to think of the workers as bad, lazy, or evil. (Again, yes, surely some workers are ‘bad’…but we do not design business systems mainly to address the few bad people.)
But, let us stay with the managers today.
Yes, there are many managers who do not manage well. And some may even manage in a negative or bad way.
I think the main reason is that they have been badly taught. No one has taught them, or they have wrongly learned. For example, they have learned that it is useful to be a command-and-control manager. We (society) have tempted them with ego rewards of various sorts, and many have succumbed. And it was taught as ‘the right way,’ and it was all that they were taught.
There is, for some of them, and for some of us, the notion that no one can correct a manager. At least no one who reports to that manager. This also is an un-helpful notion.
So, to replace the old notions, we offer a few suggestions:
- managing people is very hard, and probably requires a variety of different skills depending on the situation and the people involved. Our managers need to be properly equipped and typically (I think) are not now.
- hierarchy and power are probably not that helpful, at least in most situations where you have knowledge workers. Minimize hierarchy and power.
- with knowledge work, knowledge creation and motivation are quite important. Perhaps yet another reason to look for a different kind of manager (than seemed perfectly appropriate when managing manual workers).
- we speak of leadership, and some say that we need no managers, only leaders. Certainly leaders who lead us in the right direction and do it well are rare. We need more of them; more people like Steve Jobs, we might say. However, I think we still need managers too.
So, I have implied a lot of change, in general, for most managers, if they are to manage well in lean-agile.
We are in the process of changing the management culture throughout the world. This will be a long conversation. There are so many dimensions. We need to talk and fight and argue about how to manage better. If you briefly let me over-simplify people into managers and knowledge workers, then I say the workers are very much part of this discussion also.
But calling one side ‘evil’ is not helpful.