The rise and fall of the professionalism of work.

First we caused the twin evils of poor communication and inability to learn from each other through our systematisation and bureaucratisation of the world of work. We devalued relationships and trust as twin pillars of human endeavour. Then we made it worse by sticking plaster on the wound, adding layers of “professional” intervention on top in the form of “internal communicators” and “knowledge managers” in our attempts to make things better. We buried the people trying to do things under increasingly collusive layers of “grown ups” pretending that this is the way things have to be.

[In case I was in any doubt about how far removed from the real world organisational life has become, while writing this I got an email from Linkedin advertising a job as a “Performance And Process Manager” at the BBC.]

Then along comes the web. The web is about making better decisions faster. It is the evolution of knowledge on steroids. It cuts out the middle men and allows communication and learning to flow through and around the blocks in its way.

The inevitable rise of networked communications in organisations is deeply challenging to many of those currently in managerial positions. I see it in their eyes on a daily basis. I feel sorry for them. But anyone standing in the way of this happening in their organisation has to be off their rocker.

8 thoughts on “The rise and fall of the professionalism of work.”

  1. I know it sounds a bit daft, or maybe grand, but my sense is that we are beginning to question the whole notion of specialism in management. Why be an "ops guy" when you can be a manager? Why be a "strategist" or an "accountant" when you can be a manager? What in the common endeavour of organizations is more noble than the plain old title ‘manager’?


  2. Ha! Yes I saw that job too – I think you may be a little over-harsh, about a third of the job spec was about making things (processes and systems) work better, but the other two thirds did seem to be very much about compensating for poor systems or poor communications between teams. I’d say it would need to be the other way round! Picking up on Kawalek’s point, I think the "everything-2.0" world gives a lot of advantages to the generalists who can build a network, and who can make use of the technology (and more importantly the connections it enables) to learn about new things quickly. Of course, there will still be many applications where you need the deep knowledge of a specialist, but for more and more "making things happen" roles the skills of the generalist will be needed. The art is balancing the two.And I disagree that this signals a fall in "professionalism", unless you are using that word in the sense that we associate with "professional bodies", which in most cases are all about exclusivity in the name of professional standards.Perhaps we need a new set of words to describe "doing the best job you can,, having high personal standards, and being open to new ideas and learning"?


  3. I did mean it more in terms of your second definition Julian. The accretion of roles and functions that keep people busy and feeling indispensable but add little to the collective ability to get things done – other than to overcome the barriers create by other unnecessary administrative overheads.I was not arguing against expertise!


  4. I just posted a link to this point well made , and linked that with a quote from Gary Hamel : Future of Management"There isn’t any law that prevents large organizations from being engaging, innovative, and adaptive – and mostly bureaucracy free. Even better, it really is possible to set the human spirit free at work. So no more excuses. It’s time for you to buckle down and start inventing the future of management…My goal in writing this book was not to predict the future of management but to help you invent it…From the first time since the dawning of the industrial age, the only way to build a company that’s fit for the future is to build one that is fit for human beings as well.”The degree with which rules and structure become a retreat for the lazy, tired or power crazy never ceases to amaze me. Watching the US apprentice last night there was the ridiculous label pantomime (re-enforcing the corporate feudalism) with a "team" of 2. One of them had to be "project manager" hence the battle was they were in charge dammit! However the task was to make a film. The project manager was going to be the actress, and the other the director. So now they could argues all day long about who was in charge, undermining who etc. There seemed little room for just getting on with it and talking to one another.(I realize this is a tv show and a competition but it did show the insanity in microcosm of relying to much on chains of command).


  5. @Euan – in which case the example job description that we picked on is an excellent illustration – 2/3 applying sticking plaster, 1/3 getting real stuff done@Ian – great example of the obsession with labels!


  6. So the role of the manager evolves, new skills to learn in line with advances in technology. So technological empowerment to the masses … but the rise of the Thought Police? Then the informal networks go underground…


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