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March 07, 2018


Luis Enrique

"there is a distinct skill of management that can be applied everywhere"

oh no! I think I might sympathise with managerialism here, at least a less extreme version of that. One might almost say your other 4 characteristics of good management describe a portable set of skills.

Luis Enrique

did you see this paper about the difference between being good at your job and being a good manager?


Mike W

‘Stian Westlake made a very good point yesterday:
Attacks on managerialism sometimes (often?) become a sort of wholesale denial of the importance of management (which IMO is a mistake). He’s right.’
Come on Chris, no he isn’t. He is just, ‘talking his book’.I hope your essay is a sophisticated, ‘dialectical twist’ on Westlake himself, that you Marxists are so fond of.Consider what you have written.You develop a managerialism/ good management demarcation criteria.
Number 2 says: Managerialism believes there is a distinct skill of management that can be applied everywhere: we see this in the careers of people like Adam Crozier or Rona Fairhead who have jumped from industry to industry...

Good management, by contrast, realizes that context matters. In The Tyranny of Metrics, Jerry Muller points out that the best performance indicators “are embedded into a larger institutional culture.”

Hold on, let’s have a look at Westlake’s CV for one moment:
Stian Westlake joined National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) in 2009. Before this, he worked in social venture capital at The Young Foundation, making and managing investments in a range of social enterprises and founding Healthy Incentives, an innovative health venture. Before this, he spent five years at McKinsey & Company in Silicon Valley and London, where he provided strategic advice to a range of private and public sector clients, focusing on healthcare, technology, and corporate and infrastructure finance.’

So which classification is Westlake himself actually in then? I would be more upfront with this ‘character of modernity’ than you Stumbling. I would say to Westlake that managers like him are indeed despised buy those forced to defer to them, and have been since Orwell got the measure of Burnham and nailed him in ‘1984’. Even more important is the modern, ‘Management School’, writing about the ‘new’ assorted leadership styles. They claim that Macintyre, for example, is dated and mangers no longer conform to the model in ‘After Virtue’. But they do don’t they? That’s our iron cage. Westlike and his class have not, progressed, nor could they. He, even in this case, is simply doing in his tweet what Macintyre says he will be doing: Whizzing around, contract to contract, posting here, networking there, pretending/ acting/performing/bluffing the part of the ‘good’ manager.

*The language of this post have been censored, with all Orwell's Anglo Saxon terms removed, so it is perfectly safe to be consumed by social science students.

Steven Clarke

I agree with Luis.

That no management skills are transferable seems to me as extreme and wrong as if management skills are wholly transferable.


First when our blogger goes for management against managerialism it is hard to disagree, and I am a grateful reader of his book.

The most important point however as always is the purpose of managerialism, which is to server and enforce a certain type of politics. Managerialism by itself would be a weird cult if it weren't a good tool for that type of politics.

«That no management skills are transferable seems to me as extreme and wrong as if management skills are wholly transferable.»

That's agreeable, but on the balance there is a mountain of evidence that most management skills are far less transferable than viceversa.
The evidence: there are innumerable cases of great managers in context A that become huge failures in context B, where often context B is the same place same organization but 20 years later when some change elsewhere happened.

It is of course that luck is often mistook for "management skills", but it is also that organizations made of people are exquisitely chaotic, in the sense of "butterfly effect".

Instead the skills of an accountant or an electrical engineer are far more portable across contexts, because their domain is far more "linear", usually by deliberate effort.

And that's why many managers try to "linearize" workers, queezing them as hard as possible into unquestioning docility, "perinde ac cadaver" being the goal.

But every sufficiently complex intellect, be they human, animal, or AI, is bound to be questioning and not fully docile "because self-preservation", and even some machinery are not that docile either, and they often are anthropomorphised by their engineers.


I wrote a missive once upon leaving an employer that I was p.o. about the "hierarchical" model of organization and thought that it should be replaced (as it was being replaced in IT) by a "peer-to-peer" organization that saw individuals within an organization as specialists providing services to one another. One of those services was for want of a better name "management" which involved making sure that the work of people was co-ordinated and useful and that they had the resources they needed to do their job. I see no reason to change that opinion. The problem seems to me not with management or managerialism, but with the view of management as being at a level above others, rather than a servant of them. Consider a doctor's surgery. Who is biggest earner - the manager or the technical expert?


P.S. It seems to me that the high earnings are not in fact a reflection of positive productivity but rather a reflection of "protection money" reflecting the potential damage that can be done.


I have worked with managerialists and they are good at what they do. But I think they lack subtlety of thought (except to their own advancement).

We may be seeing something of this with the recent spy drama. Possibly someone has been taking state security seriously (in a literal sort of way). Back slapping all round.

A more subtle manager might see state security in a more nuanced way, seeing spies and their survival as a useful safety valve and means of encouraging stability whilst keeping a good employment opportunity going. Competing managerialists might prefer to disrupt such a cosy process. We shall see.


Its not the top down nature of targets that are the problem, its targets themselves. As Ono said, targets always sub-optimise performance.

Managerialists always miss this point as they approach management from a command and control perspective.

Instead having measures that are linked to what matters to your customers is more likely to drive improvement.

From Arse To Elbow

The distinction between managerialism and management is largely structural: it relates to where a "manager" sits in an organisation rather than being a stylistic habit or intellectual preference.

For example, the Messiah complex assumes a categorical difference between executive and operational management. The former is outward-facing to investors, regulators and financial institutions. It isn't managing the business so much as the business's market relations, and that is a transferable skill because the interfaces don't change much from one business to another. Many publicly-listed firms formalise this by having separate boards: one to handle the externals (this is where the Croziers and Fairheads are to be found) and one to handle the actual running of the business.

Just as this structure gives rise to the Messiah complex, so it also promotes top-down targets and metrics as a way of understanding heterogenous businesses from an external perspective. This has an ideological purpose as well. The cascading of managerialist practices within businesses, such as the internal promotion of mission statements and the formal alignment of sub-division goals with strategy, is partly intended to normalise the idea that a business must justify itself to the market.

The problem of managerialism then is less one of MBA bullshit or executive promiscuity and more the nature of the business market (i.e. the financial and regulatory market inhabited by all businesses, not a specific sector). Managerialism is a consequence of financialisation.


«Managerialism is a consequence of financialisation»

I like association of managerialism and financialization this very much, but it can go the other way round: financialization can be seen as a consequence of managerialism.

The links between the two are Hanson style conglomerates and asset strippers, and consequently the thesis by Michael Jensen's that the only valid success metric for a business is financial returns.


It occurs to me that this connection between financialization and managerialism might actually highlight a time perspective issue. The problem with financialization is that it brings everything forward in time. The future consequences of actions are always evaluated today, which means that the actual execution becomes secondary (almost literally an afterthought).

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