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"Managing modestly" and other 180s

Book Review: Compilation of management tidbits blows away some cherished myths

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  • Written by  Gary L. Gilliard
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  • Comments:   DISQUS_COMMENTS
Management: It’s Not What You Think, by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand, and Joseph Lampel, AMACOM (American Management Association) Books, 192 pp., 2010 Management: It’s Not What You Think, by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand, and Joseph Lampel, AMACOM (American Management Association) Books, 192 pp., 2010

Would you rather learn about management solely from the viewpoint of people who have studied management? Or from the perspective of people who have been there, actually managing?

Management: It’s Not What You Think takes a unique approach, for a “how-to-manage” book. The book is compilation of different articles and thoughts about management presented by a variety of management experts, rather than all from one author’s viewpoint. The book is arranged into eight chapters with the different articles being placed into spots within those chapters that the three coordinators believe fits the intent of a chapter.

What also sets this book apart is that most of the articles place a major emphasis on the importance of experience versus educational training. Quite simply, the different authors provide ideas and viewpoints that you will not learn from academics in college business courses. However, many of the concepts are often shared by existing managers or professors with a practitioner background.

The book gathers viewpoints from a wide variety of places, and includes “quotes, poems, outbursts, musings, and web things,” in the publisher’s words.

The structure is both interesting and challenging. As I’ll recount below, I found several interesting discussion topics in the book. However, I did have to overcome the challenge of following many different thoughts and viewpoints from many different authors. This approach made the book somewhat disjointed at times and hard to follow.

On the positive side, some ideas were very thought provoking and offered a different perspective than you normally find in similar types of management books.

“Managing modestly”: How to do it

From my perspective, the most interesting chapter in It’s Not What You Think was Chapter 8, the final chapter, “Managing Modestly.”

The articles in this section made a strong and convincing case for the need to create a true team environment within companies and discussed ways to make this happen. The chapter provided examples of successful approaches currently being used. Here are five key points that I gained out of the discussion in this chapter.

1. Flatten the pay philosophy. CEOs should encourage a salary and bonus structure which more closely aligns with employee wage and bonus structures, as part of instilling a true Team Philosophy within a company.

The author of this section in his “A Long Overdue Letter to the Board,” writes:

“I am requesting that you reduce my salary by half and that you redesign my bonus system along the lines outlined below. From now on, I wish to take increases (or decreases for that matter) in the same proportion as our operating employees.”

2. Don’t keep a lid on good ideas. Employees have the potential to be incredible sources of ideas and innovations for companies. A manager’s challenge is to find ways to build a structure that allows those ideas and innovations to bubble up. It’s crucial in today’s business environment.

3. Tear down barriers to cooperation. Getting senior managers closer to the workers is extremely important in today’s fast-paced world and the best way to accomplish that task is by flattening an organization’s structure.

4. Managing quietly is important.
Quiet managers inspire their employees. They truly care about their organization. They infuse change in the organization so it seeps in slowly, steadily, and profoundly, versus thrusting it on employees in dramatic and superficial episodes.

The author of this section tells the story of one very successful company whose story was so pedestrian that a freelance journalist’s profile of it was rejected as too boring. Yet the author notes that of some of the not-so-long-ago heroes of the financial press turned out, well, not so good after all. “Consider this proposition,” he writes. “Maybe really good management is boring.”

5. Ditch the remote controls. Managers rolling up their sleeves and finding out how things really work at the ground level—this is crucial when changes are being proposed.

More tidbits to think on

Here are some other ideas that I found interesting and worthwhile:

Chapter 1: Management Mosaic

Viewpoints offered about decision making were interesting and worth reviewing. One article was called “Decision Making: It’s not what you think” and it discussed three ways that managers make decisions and the methods or approaches that each method uses in that process. The three approaches were “Thinking First”, “Seeing First” and “Doing First.”

The article called “Managing: How can you possibly think?” was well worth the read. It discussed four management myths that the author called “Management Folklore” and why the author believes these myths to be wrong.

Here’s one example: “Folklore: Managers maintain tight control—of their time, their activities, their units. … Fact: The manager is neither conductor nor puppet: control in this job tends to be covert more than overt.”

Chapter 4: Myths of Managing

“Spotting Management Fads” is a thought-provoking read for every manager. It essentially makes light of the current management trend of inventing so-called “new ways” to manage and selling the world on the idea. You quickly realize that the authors have a very low opinion of the effectiveness of management fads. They provide steps to quickly identify if someone is proposing a “management fad” solution to a problem.

Chapter 6: Masters of Managing

As a person with a Masters degree in Finance plus significant experience in the business and banking communities, I found Section 1 “Managers Not MBAs” to be a thought-provoking view of education without experience and agreed with the conclusions. Although the section did not say that education had no place in the business world, it clearly indicated that the value of education without experience is overvalued in today’s business world and can become a fatal mistake for a company.

In this chapter’s “Harvard’s Masters of the Apocalypse” discusses several well-known business mistakes made by Harvard MBAs who possessed little or no experience. This section was a good reminder of the risk of allowing inexperienced people to handle very important tasks.

Chapter 7: Metamorphosing Management

Section 7 of this chapter, “Crafting Strategy,” is an interesting discussion about the place for strategy in business. The author compares making strategy with molding a clay pot and explains the similarities in producing both items. I found the author’s approach to creating strategy established a good step-by-step blueprint for creating a good environment for developing strategies.

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