Is Management Broken?

In an article in Fortune Magazine (May 11, 2009) called, How Business Can Stand Tall Again, David Gergen quotes Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic as saying that the cause of today’s economic crisis is "failed leadership." Gergen says that public scandals and other management behavior of the last few years have destroyed the trust between leaders and other employees in organizations. In order to restore American business as something to be admired and copied by the rest of the world, he says, trust has to be rebuilt. One of the things he suggests as a means of rebuilding trust is, "Embrace the concept of corporate management becoming a true profession."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, professions involve the application of specialized knowledge of a subject, field, or science to fee-paying clientele. What is the specialized knowledge or science on which managers base their day to day decisions? What kind of answers do you think I would get from most managers to the following questions, "What are the standards against which you evaluate management effectiveness?" "What is your management process?" Or "Explain the science behind your management".

Most managers use common sense as the guide or standard against which they evaluate their decisions or actions. Common sense is what we learn from experience. Unfortunately our experience doesn’t always teach us the correct thing. Many people seem to have a lot of bad experience and what they take away from it is bad. Common sense has led to the development of many major management systems that do not maximize organizational performance.

I agree with Gergen when he says, "Corporate leaders can and should fight for legitimate core interests, but they have resisted too long almost every effort to overhaul broken systems." (Bold and italics are mine for emphasis.) In business "resistance to change" is an item on every culture change expert’s list. In science, change is a sign of progress. Data is welcomed, even when it contradicts exciting knowledge and practices. If management was a science, change would be welcomed –not resisted.

According to Wikipedia, "Management science (MS) is the discipline of using scientific research-based principles, strategies, and other analytical methods, such as mathematical modeling to improve any organization's ability to enact rational, meaningful business management decisions." A common definition of management is "the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals." Yet in the definition of management science, behavior is not mentioned. Any model of effective management should start with the science of behavior – behavior analysis. Since nothing is accomplished in business without behavior, if you don’t understand behavior you don’t have a chance of making business systems and processes perform maximally.

Yes, we need a management profession grounded in the science of behavior—the science of how people learn, master, and sustain worthy performance. Anything else will only perpetuate the management errors of the last two thousand years. You can’t learn from your mistakes or benefit from what you do correctly if you don’t have some way to measure the impact of your behavior on the behavior of others in a systematic way. In Measure of a Leader, Jamie Daniels and I tried to show how a concept like leadership can be subjected to scientific scrutiny.

Management is broken but it can be fixed. It can’t happen too soon.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.