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The Problem With Management - Part 2: The Upside-Down Manager

(Read Part 1 at

Have you ever noticed how much more relaxed things are when the boss is away? Or the feeling of freedom you get when another department is attracting all the boss's attention, leaving you relatively free to get on with the job? Somewhere behind the cause of these liberations lies the heart of the problem with management.

As a manager, you have a job to get done. No matter what your rank or what size the organization, you are accountable for making sure that something happens. It might be generating sales at a certain level, keeping the customers happy, achieving target production rates, balancing the books - or all of these and more.

Your organisation, or your part of it, is like a bicycle; you are the cyclist. Your job is to maintain the various parts and keep them working together as best you can. You also need to keep the bike moving as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

To get the best out of your machine over a long period, you need to maintain a rhythm. Even the best cyclists can't ride flat-out over a distance. Rather, they find a pedalling speed (cadence) with which is both productive and comfortable, and they work hard to preserve it.

As you ride along, you keep a feel for what's going on underneath you. You listen out for rattles; for any sign of grinding or squeaking or rubbing. You also keep a watchful eye on the road ahead and try to anticipate obstacles which threaten to break that precious rhythm.

The problem with management - that which leaves managers in the 19th century as I discussed in Part 1 - is that it is often very hard to keep the cadence steady.

The obstacles are just too numerous: information overload, communication breakdowns, complex technologies and corporate bureaucracy; unending and ever-growing compliance requirements, time compression and relentless competition forcing you to get more done with less.

On top of all these things (and this, I believe, is the crux of the matter) is a management culture which is upside-down. A culture which tends to see you spending more time working for the boss - that is, managing upwards - than you do actually getting the job done.

In effect you're being asked to maintain and ride your bicycle as efficiently as you can - by the same people who keep asking you to get off so they can check on how you're going.

Cycling teams take a different approach. They focus all their effort on one thing: helping the lead rider to maintain his or her rhythm and, ultimately, win the race. Seems to me that approach might hold the kernel of a solution to the problem with management. But that will have to wait until Part 3...

by David Brewster

David Brewster is a Simplicity expert. He helps managers and business owners find ways to simplify the way they work, the products they create and the way they communicate. His client's work more effectively and have more, happier customers. David regularly writes and speaks on simplifying work. Downloads and resources are available at his website:

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