Simon Terry

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Management Practice Lags Culture

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Management practice is influenced heavily by hierarchy, tradition and risk aversion. As a result our practice as managers lags the changes in culture in the society around us. Leaders need to work to close the gap between management practice and social expectations.

Management Practice is a Lagging Indicator

The way we manage our organisations is defined by practices that often trace back to the industrial era. The consequences of this are evident in many ways:

  • the diversity of our organisations does not reflect the diversity of our communities. Gender is just one diversity dimension in which management practices lag that the practices and views of society as a whole.
  • organising activity using networks and leveraging the potential of people to contribute is another way in which organisations are only beginning to address opportunities that communities, our personal relationships and the innovative organisations have already embraced
  • resistance to give up hierarchy, planning and demands for predictability and certainty when even the political structures based in these models have surrendered to approaches that operate far more adaptively and responsively.

Art is a Leading Indicator of Changing Society

Our cultural products adapt far more quickly to changes in society than our management practices.  Film, television, music and other forms of entertainment rapidly embrace changes in the way society operate and reflect that in the protagonists of the stories, songs and other art forms.

An example can be seen in the role of the detective in arts like novels, film and television.  In the birth of the industrial era, the detective was a logician, like Sherlock Holmes unravelling facts and relying on expertise in predictable processes, By the early 20th century the detective was a master of the human elements of relationships, like Simenon’s Maigret.  The uncertain times of the mid century introduced the detective in a much more ambiguous role. Richard Martin has documented how the changing nature of the detective film reflects our changing society.

Cultural products appeal to our need to be entertained, connect and engage with each other. Therefore they must be relevant to our society as it is today. Art is an experimental market where failure is common and success is usually defined only by audience acceptance. Someone is always seeking a better way to express the zeitgeist.

Why does management practice lag changes in the culture of society?

Management practice lacks these same pressures. Too much of our management practice is assumed to be canonical and confirmed only by inward looking assessment:

  • Focus on best practice: Best practice is historical and often particularly contextual. However, managers are often reluctant to move beyond accepted best practice.  As Harold Jarche has argued we should look instead to practice to be best and look to be more social leaders.
  • Risk Aversion: Avoidance of failure is a core tenet of management practice. Managers stick with practices that have worked safely for them, often in face of evidence that newer practice is better. Safety is valued.  There are real costs to this risk aversion.
  • Hierarchical & Internal: Managers who are more hierarchically senior set the bounds of acceptable management practice and control the HR processes that reinforce acceptable practice. Without an external & learning mindset, these leaders can inadvertently reflect management views and mindsets of a previous generation that were handed down to them during their early career.

Change

Responsive Organisations will have a culture and a set of management practices that reflect the needs of our society now. These organisations will experiment, test and measure the effectiveness of their practices in the marketplace and in their organisation. They will not rely on canon, hierarchy or accepted opinion.

The benefits of organisations using management practices that better reflect the changing culture of our communities are clear. These organisations will be more human and better able to realise the potential of all people.

Bringing this change about is the work of leaders and change agents. 


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