The End of the Age of Management

THE OFFICE - Pictured: Steve Carell as Michael Scott - NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth

Western business practices were in a state of flux when management guru Peter Drucker defined the “management by objectives” formula (MBO) in his book The Practice of Management. MBO provided an alternative approach to a tightly regimented egalitarian work model of post-World War II. The difference was management based upon motivation, periodic progress review and employee reward systems.

While MBO was the gold standard for workplace management, times are changing. With profound influences such as increased complexity of work, access to information, and immediate and constant interconnectivity, work has entered a new state of human behaviors that surpass the regimentation of Drucker’s management principles. Shared visions, performance improvement, qualitatively measured results and strategic communication, have become the new workplace reality. Yet, deep-seated management practices may hold many companies back, perhaps signifying the end of the age of management.

Challenging an Established Approach

At the time when Drucker introduced his management principles (1954), the majority of western work was being performed under the industrial ideals of production, process, and hierarchy. Managers served as the single authority; company commitment and employee loyalty went hand in hand; and work ended when the whistle blew. MBO was a change and encouraged those in charge to set clear objectives and directives that would lead to improved evaluations and rewards.

Today ‘s ingrained management practices can also be attributed to western education. The setting consisted of sitting at desks, arranged in rows and listening to a teacher disseminates information on a variety of subjects. Business management ideals are strikingly similar, with managers assuming the teacher role, workstations aligned like school desks, and projects prioritized based upon a subjective level of importance.

Management consultant W. Edwards Deming provides insights for management change. In his book, Out of the Crisis, he details contemporary behaviors of management practices in his “Fourteen Points for the Transformation of Management.” In his context, there are three precepts that deserve consideration in replacing today’s standard, backward management practices. They are:

  • Key Principle 8. “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the ” Managed pressure for results is often the greatest barrier to innovation.
  • Key Principle 2. “Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead substitute with leadership.” Management speaks the language of efficiency: time, money and widgets (quantity of product). Leadership speaks the language of effectiveness: quality, engagement and purpose.
  • Key Principle “Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.” A shared vision builds teams that problem-solve together.
Changing for the Better

To rely exclusively on outdated ideas and process that fail to meet the needs of the current worker is a misguided approach. Tim is passing, people at work are suffering, and business is losing value. Evolving workplace behaviors demand a paradigm shift in management practices. Examining alternative approaches is a step in the right direction. For instance, the United States Marine Corps adheres to the principle that everyone is a leader and leadership can happen anywhere. Every Marine is taught fundamental leadership behaviors.
Equally important is creating an atmosphere that embraces transformational change. Start by incorporating these ideals:

  • Motivation Maturity: Hire people who are smarter than you and then strive for planned obsolescence of your current position This enables executives and managers to concentrate on more important business needs and personal growth. Re-frame work to expect motivation maturity.
  • Creative Productivity: Expand your focus beyond the tactica Move through tactical roadblocks, systems and procedures by harnessing creative integrity, diversity of experience, and the unique strengths of the team.
  • Shared Direction Making: Tap into the collective ambition and varied experiences of employees. When everyone shares in the responsibility of achieving results, it builds community and engagement, which increases retention.
The End of the Age of Management

Work is clearly at a crossroads. As such, it is foolhardy to expect to move forward by re lying solely on management principles popularized more than a half a century ago. Yet some level of supervision will always be required. Then again, what work will look like in the future is anyone’s guess. Daniel H. Pink, author of the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About what Motivates Us envisions the future of work this way, “Create autonomy: Mature people require the power of self-governance with an ability to act separately from the status quo. Create mastery: Intrinsically motivated people produced results. Create purpose: Creative people share in the values, systems and direction of business.”

Eliminating outdated management practices and beliefs are essential to future success. Creating a workplace environment that enables workers to thrive and deliver exceptional results remains the t rue objective. Accomplishing this goal requires establishing new business behaviors, principles, and workplace design.


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Strategize Magazine; republished with permission.

Photo: Steve Carell as Michael Scott in The Office; NBC Photo by Mitchell Haaseth.