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The End of Management, or Just a Different Style?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week that declared "the End of Management" as we know it. Depending on who your managers have been over the years, this might sound like a good thing. But what exactly did Alan Murray mean when he said it?

Basically, his contention was that management as we knew it for most of the 20th century no longer applies to the way we work today. In the traditional corporation, a manager's job was to take all the resources they were given and, using a good set of metrics, make sure that everyone pulled in the same direction and did what the organization needed them to do. So what's changed, exactly?

According to Murray, tools like the Internet and social collaboration have changed the manager's job. It's no longer to simply move pieces around but to think more like a venture capitalist. "The new model will have to instill in workers the kind of drive and creativity and innovative spirit more commonly found among entrepreneurs," he writes. "It will have to push power and decision-making down the organization as much as possible, rather than leave it concentrated at the top."

According to blogger and leadership author Wally Bock, the problem wasn't management, but bureaucracy --and yes, it's hard sometimes to tell them apart. "I choose to think that bureaucracy is like barnacles. They will show up on the hull naturally and when they do, you need to scrape them off," he says. "My rule is simple. Behaviors that are rooted in human nature don't change. Clinging to what's brought you to success and making 'rules' until they choke you seems like normal human behavior to me."

Bock has the following simple guidelines for managers on how to get with Murray's new management world order:

  • Don't specify goals to six decimal places. Take the advice of Jack Welch. "Pick a general direction and then implement like hell."
  • Let people do what people do: get involved and innovate. Set some boundaries, but not much more.
  • Ditch the procedure manual. Use a few simple rules instead. It works for flocks of birds, for chess and for growing babies. It might just work for you.
  • Don't lean in and pore over the work. Lean back and let it go.
Is that really a new way to think of management, or just finally walking the talk that all those good trainers and gurus have been preaching for the last 40 years or so? After all, what's the difference between Ken Blanchard's joke about the "seagull manager" (swoop in, make a lot of noise, dump on people, and leave) and the older style of management Murray talks about? Not much.

Remote managers, of course, don't have a choice on this: micromanagement is really hard from 700 miles away. The new model of empowerment, trust and vision may not be any different from what good managers have tried to do for a long time. It's just that with the way we work today, particularly from afar, we might actually have to get around to doing it.

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