Endless repeats

Published by Tony Quinlan on

Personnel Today are writing about a recent survey that blames middle managers for lost productivity, even putting a spurious figure of £220bn on the loss.  This smacks to me of a lazy and particularly unhelpful PR exercise.  (Given that it’s got coverage elsewhere, it’s worked in spreading their name, but in terms of informing discussion it’s rubbish.)

I’ve got a number of gripes here.

  • Plenty of neat little percentages to talk about issues, but if you interrogate it, the sample size for the survey is a grand total of 200 managers.  There must be a couple of million relevant managers in the UK, so this would represent a sample of 1/10,000th of the total.  My MBA statistics course may have been over a decade ago, but even I can spot that this is meaningless.
  • Useless middle managers are the problem.  That’s not what I’d call radical or newsworthy.  A nice soft, amorphous target – indeed one that’s been hit time and time again.  [Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known plenty of middle managers and the bad outnumber the good, but that’s a very wide brush to be using for all that tar and feathers.] A nice neat category “useless middle managers” but it doesn’t help.
  • £220bn is a fabulously eye-catching number to stick on the problem.  The same amount as that “stolen by Nigeria’s corrupt rulers” or the value of the proposed Shell-BP merger last year.  And this is how much middle managers are losing?
  • I hate the idea of maximally efficient/productive systems anyway, as I’ve said before.  They’re a fallacy and positively dangerous in many circumstances – no room for change or surprises.  Or indeed humanity, toilet breaks, thinking time, etc.

In terms of any thoughtful discussion about middle management, it does nothing but reinforce old, lazy stereotypes – middle managers are a waste, they don’t lead, they eat up resource, etc, etc.

Rather than categorise people and managers, I’m reminded of something I picked up from reading Fritjof Capra’s “The Web of Life” six years ago – it’s the relationships and the flow between objects/people that matter.