A plague of managers

We need managers in our organisations. We always will. We just don’t need them as much as they think we do.

It fascinates me watching startups grow beyond the original founders and the rate at which they accrete managers. When they get as big as Google, Twitter or Yahoo you start to see cracks at the seams as the original principles and behaviours get buried under the MBA fuelled “business as usual” mindset.

Established organisations suffer too. If they encounter problems they invariably try to solve them by throwing managers at them. If they’ve run out of managers they hire more from consultancies!

Once in place management culture becomes an end in itself and anyone who dares question it risks disapproval, marginalisation, or dismissal.

When I was in an operational job at the BBC we enjoyed fantasising about inverting the pyramid. We knew what we had to do, we did it without supervision, and we also knew when we needed help to resolve conflicts or when change needed to happen. We imagined only recruiting managers when we needed such support and keeping them on short term contract only for the time that they were needed. An unrealistic fantasy perhaps but closer to the truth than many would like to think.

Don’t get me wrong, good managers can transform a business, great ones can transform lives. Like I said, we need managers and always will. We just need them not to get ideas above their station!

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