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June 15, 2005



Don't know how they do it in the UK but in the US, management just moves the boxes around every quarter until something works and then they stay with that until it stops working (sometimes).


Your explanation is empty: there is nothing British-specific in it. Further (1) How do McKinsey separate British management effects from labour-force or Government effects? (2) What are the chances of Management Consultants saying that management doctrine doesn't matter much? Is it (i) precious little , or (ii) Sweet Fanny Adams?

Anyway, who would take seriously anyone who's dim enough to believe in some unique and universal "best practice"?


Maybe British Management is sooo bad because they use so many management consultants!???

I'd like to ask, but can't be bothered to read the report just yet (too busy managing management consultants) - but what were the impacts of bad UK managers on business performace - were there any? if their badness means their companies have crap performance - there's an incentive to change maybe. If not, no incentive.

Maybe German managers have fewer responsbilities and more time on their hands so have more time for part time MBAs or management training...???

Anyhow like all these things the big questions is SO WHAT difference does it make.

So I will be expecting more cental government knee jerk policies and programmes for management training to land on my desk sometime soon - uh great!

Tim Worstall

"However, complaints about the poor quality of UK management are nothing new; they were commonplace in the 1960s, and probably before then."

Since the 20s at least. Who was it who said that the coal union leaders were the most stupid people he’d ever had to deal with and then he met the mine owners?


Tim: dunno - Baldwin maybe?


Sorry, Dearieme and Angry, I should have been clearer. Apparently, there is some correlation between their measures of management quality and firms' financial performance - which just adds to the puzzle that management stays poor even despite feedback.
Your're right, Dearieme; my explanation is empty as a theory of why British management is so bad. It's an explanation for why management stays bad once it starts bad. As for why it's British management is so bad, there are all those old arguments about the UK's bias against industry, poor vocational training and hostility to meritocrats. Someone once said that England is the only country in which the phrase "too clever by half" is an insult.
I agree with you on your other points, Dearieme - I was trying, for once, an immanent critique of management, figuring that you'd all be bored with my usual arguments against managerialism.


Oh well, I'll "treat" you (again?) to my own explanation for bad British management, or at least its origins, in the manufacturing industries. It's the Unions, innit? When I was an engineering undergraduate, we used to hear interviews on the wireless and telly with stupid, ranting, mendacious "leaders" from Longbridge and the like, whose effect was to make many of us swear to ourselves that we'd never work in those industries. No doubt it put plenty of others off reading engineering altogether. And in due course you end up with dud management, the talent having gone elsewhere. Often things were so bad that virtually uneducated accountants were used as managers. I ask you! And once duds are in charge, they hire other duds - as you imply; not least because the dud are rarely much good at spotting the bright. How could they tell, poor things? I don't claim this as a universal explanation, but it is a large part of it. Long term, the workers were determining who the managers were.

Angry Economist

Totally unrelated but a big reason I gave up a civil engineering degree was sitting in 5x two hour lectures looking at slides of a microscopic section of concreete at various stages of setting over a period of two years!

Good point - in Britain, its the accountants who get the top management posts, not the heads of HR or the marketing managers, or market researchers (!).

"Britain’s higher education is as good
as anywhere in the world" http://cep.lse.ac.uk/layard/britains_skills_record.pdf

Britain produces the raw intellectual talent for good management - where do we go wrong?

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