I was prompted by the comments on my last blog on management tools and techniques to write this blog as a reply. I am struck by how strong the belief in tools and techniques is so that even though agreeing with what I said, there is an immediate move to talking about dynamic tools instead of static ones and claiming that there is scientific evidence for certain propositions about the development of the human mind allowing standard patterns to be mapped and measured. Of course what I wrote is contesting all of this and is certainly denying the assertion of a scientific base allowing us to know as a fact. Another comment asserted everything we do could be described as using a tool or technique. In this blog I will try to explain why I profoundly disagree with that statement. Then there is a comment by Chris Rodgers, most of which I agree with. What I am trying to talk about, however, is not about different prescriptions or ‘shoulds’ but rather with a way of thinking about what people are already doing in organisations.
Archive for October, 2010
Thinking about the nature of the ‘tools and techniques’ that people ‘apply’ in the serious game of organizational life
Posted in complexity, management, politics of everyday life, science, systems, Uncategorized, tagged abstractions, habitus, Pierre Bourdieu, science, scientific management, tools and techniques on October 20, 2010 | 12 Comments »
Some of the responses to previous postings on this blog reflect the widespread insistence on providing managers with a set of tools and techniques that will produce success. I think it is widely believed that there is a received body of knowledge on management concerned with the ‘big picture’ over the ‘long term’ for the ‘whole organisation’. What people usually mean when they talk about the long term, big picture for a whole organisation is a clear view of the purpose of that organisation and the direction in which ‘it’ is intended to ‘move’, ‘going forward into the future’, so that its ‘resources’, ‘capabilities’ and ‘competences’ are ‘optimally’ ‘aligned’ to the sources of competitive advantage in its environment as ‘the way’ to achieve ‘successful’ performance. It is also widely believed that there is a set of ‘tools and techniques’ which can be ‘applied’ to an organisation to yield ‘success’ and that there is ‘evidence’ that these tools and techniques actually do the job required of them. The tools and techniques are persuasive if ‘case studies’ can be presented of major organisations which have achieved success through applying them. When anyone critiques or dismisses accepted its tools and techniques then there is a powerful expectation that the critic will replace them with new ones in the belief that if managers do not have tools and techniques they will simply have to muddle through in ways that are completely unacceptable in a modern world. The expectation is that we need to focus on what decision makers ‘should’ be doing to make decisions in certain kinds of problem situations in order to ‘improve’ their organisation’s performance. This is taken for granted as obvious common sense and if a critic fails to comply then the critique is dismissed as impractical and so useless.
In the previous paragraph I have placed in inverted commas those notions that most people talking about management simply take for granted as if their meanings were all perfectly obvious. However, I find it difficult to see the use of trying to present new prescriptions without exploring just what we mean when we make such taken-for-granted assumptions. Furthermore, I find it difficult to match the continuing demand for tools with the major economic and political events of the past few years. It is hard to understand how anyone who has paid any attention to the events of global credit crunch and recession that we have all experienced since 2007 can continue to believe that there is a clear, reliable body of knowledge on management containing prescriptive tools and techniques for its successful application. Surely the great majority of major international banks and other commercial organisations have not been successfully applying tools and techniques over the past few years for if they were there would not have been such a mess. Furthermore, we must surely question why massive investments by governments in Western Europe and North America in public sector services, now governed on the basis of private sector management tools and techniques, have yielded such disappointing improvements, if indeed they have yielded any significant improvement at all. If a set of tools and techniques for successful management was actually available then governments must have been incredibly ignorant in not applying them so as to produce more acceptable levels of improvement. (more…)