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April 14, 2007



Well said, Dillowbert. You tell 'em.


You might like this one then, if you aren't already familiar.

Tesco measure everything they do according to their "Steering Wheel." Originally quite a simple concept it has become more and more complicated and specialised according to the area that it is measuring as Tesco has tried to manage more and more of what it does.

It has reached the point where Tesco has received feedback that its employees do not smile enough and are "cold" to their shoppers. This has been put down to the fact that they are all busy trying hit all the other KPI's accorded to them. Tesco's response has been to create a new segment on its Steering Wheel. It will measure "warmth." So from now on, employees will be measured on their warm greetings and smiles to customers. Just how, I don't know yet, but Tesco's action is illuminating.

Kevin Carson


Your Tesco example sounds familiar. That's exactly the approach of the management of most hospitals where I've worked in dealing with MRSA infections, falls, med errors, and the like. The primary cause of all these problems is understaffing: staff don't have time to slow down and notice things or communicate effectively what they notice to the right person, and they cut corners because they don't have time to do things properly and still handle the workload. But management attempts to solve them on the cheap, by more tracking forms, slogans, and micromanagement. It's what Deming called "management by slogans, exhortations, and revival meetings."

Last year the hospital where I presently work got abysmal results on both employee and patient satisfaction surveys. Management's response to both?
1) intensive effort to draft new mission, vision and value statements;
2) lots of Fish! Philosophy puff pieces in the newsletter about how "if you choose to provide extraordinary care, you will do things differently, regardless of your abundance or lack of resources" (in other words, if we can't run a marathon, despite management cutting off our legs, it's because we're not clapping loud enough or thinking enough happy thoughts);
3) hourly rounding logs in the patient rooms, so we've got another tracking form to forge and backdate while we're trying to answer a dozen call lights at once.

I'm about ready for a Pol Pot to take out everyone who wears a necktie to work or sits behind a desk.


There's also the evident fact that managerialism as a one-size-fits-all ideology doesn't bloody work, not least because the deskilled workers are embittered and demotivated as a result.

How the hell do we reverse this idiocy?

Dan Hardie

Shorter Chris Dillow: 'This is clearly a nail, says hammer.'

Dan Hardie

'...traditionally armed forces have been distinguished from others by their courage and stoicism - the virtues necessary for success in battle. Today, they think they can blub like the rest of us, and pursue the external goal of cash rather than the internal goods of valiant solidering.'

But the rot has not spread to much of the military: there was no lack of courage and stoicim shown by 3 Para and 42 Commando RM in Helmand in Afghanistan. There has, in fact, been plenty of courage and stoicism shown by the military deployed to Southern Iraq. The evidence of my own eyes a few weeks ago was that the RAF and RN are full of fatties or giggling girls, the Paras and infantry are rather tough characters, and the other units of the Army are in an uneasy state between the two.

Now part of this may indeed be due to managerialism, but you can't just observe that your dowsing wand is shaking and your diagnosis must be correct. The ills of the military seem, to me, to have a lot to do with other factors. Short list, which is dealt with better on my latest blogpost (click on my name below, fun for all the family):

1) an institutional bias against a combatant mentality in the RAF- where a tiny proportion of the personnel fly into combat and most maintain base areas- and in the Navy - which last fought serious naval engagements 25 years ago;

2)a reflexive and stupid anti-sexism which insists that women can serve alongside men without insisting that they do so only if they can demonstrate the aggression and physical fitness necessary for combat;

3)a slavish worship of technology (again likely to be most prevalent in the RN and RAF, which are far more capital-intensive than the Army) which imagines that the electronic systems deployed on a destroyer or a fighter aircraft render irrelevant lower-tech skills (like, say, deploying patrol boats armed with machine-guns);

4) Mis-allocation of defence spending on hi-tech projects- partly because of the bias noted above, largely because UK defence manufacturing companies like BAE have far more political clout than, say, infantry NCOs- which means that enough money is not being spent on the intensive, year-long training regimes which turn out toughened service personnel.

KB Player

Chris:- thanks for telling me why those check out kids at Tesco have suddenly become interested in my health and welfare. I never think to have personal chats with check out staff and I find it disconcerting, this outbreak of unnecessary friendliness.


Worse still, there's a nasty totalitarian strand in managerialism - the belief that all areas of society should be subordinated to a single organizing ideology.

Unusual subject matter for you, Chris. But how do you arrive at this:

There's nothing more pathetic or contemptible than seeing a grown man lust for money and power.

Are there no managers who simply worked their way up on their career path? Are they all grubbing lusting satyrs for money and an orgy of power?

tom s.

There are now two types of people in the world - those who measure and those who are measured.


Surely the main driver of the managerialism that you describe was the fact that when the UK combined public funding with professional autonomy, it got "producer capture"?

In other words the problem wasn't alcoholic teachers, it was teachers who voted themselves long holidays and didn't teach enough pupils enough of what the wider society wanted.

Managerialism hasn't been (and can't be) the right answer, but that doesn't mean that the problem wasn't a real one.

Hilary Wade

Actually the shining example of how to do micro-management properly has to be Peter Jackson, whose technique seems to be to pick a bunch of talented enthusiasts at Weta, say "okay guys, amaze me," go away, and then come back a few days later and be genuinely thrilled by how they've exceeded their brief.

If anyone in the public sector could ever crack this technique, none of us would ever have cause to complain ever again!

Laban Tall

Hilary - isn't that 'culture', defined as 'the way we do things' ? The people Peter Jackson picks either
a) have a common culture or
b) are flexible enough to create one or
c) simply demonstrate the truth that good people using no methodology/structure on a project will produce better results than mediocre ones using the best (currently) approved structures and methodologies.

Where there's no common, understood culture you get the dreaded "procedures, processes and competencies" - and when it goes bosom skywards you rewrite the procedures.


Managerialism is an example of Gresham's law - quantitative targets drive out qualitative targets.

The problem is how do we get rid it? What do we replace the Police targets with?


Anyone looking for a thesis subject could do worse than look at contrasting the type and use of targets in organisations with different ownership structures, eg large privately owned, private equity, plc etc.

Rob Spear

The "answer" to managerialism is to put people in charge who have a palpable interest in the long term success of the venture in question. Ideally, the individual's future wealth or poverty, and that of their progeny, should depend in large part upon that success.

In the case of government, that role used to be filled with reasonable success by the landed aristocracy.

With high inheritance taxes, democratic elections as the only source of political legitimacy, and the like, there is no chance of fixing managerialism and its related ills that I can see.


[There's nothing more pathetic or contemptible than seeing a grown man lust for money and power]

counterpoint: balls, it's fantastic.


Rob Spear - yes. My usual reference point is the Mars corporation, which is family run. Their main concern is keeping an independent company can be handed on to future generations, and they think deeply about the best way to do that. Mars.com is a good place to start looking at how owner-run businesses do things.

Ugg london

Never frown, when you are sad, because you never know who is falling in love with your smile.

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