Today’s insight & perspective on management, the ninth guest post, comes from Tim Scott (@TimScottHR). It’s a lovely blend of philosophy and analogy grounded in real practice. I hope you enjoy reading it!
A recipe for management
Intuitively, my first reaction to “There’s no such thing as management” was “well, of course it exists”. However, somewhere in my dim and distant memory stirred some remnants of my philosophy studies and you probably know that existence is a pretty big deal in Philosophy. It’s notoriously difficult to pin down and prove – despite some intellectual heavyweights giving it some serious consideration over the years.
I remember reading a tongue in cheek assertion during my degree that any Philosophy student should know René Descartes’ legendary attempt at proving existence “I think therefore I am” in several languages (I managed two more after English). But his argument can be (crudely and with absolutely no regard for its subtleties) adapted for management.
“I manage therefore I am (a manager)”
I did warn you it would be crude. But on a fundamental level, we call people “manager”, it’s a widely used term across the world, even if it means very different things to different people. But it exists.
Believe it or not, as much as my philosophical opening might suggest otherwise, I’m actually a very practical person when it comes to work. I’m not a huge lover of management textbooks or follower of so-called thought leaders. That’s not to say I don’t think there is value in stopping to consider what we do and how we do it.
There’s probably a rule against more than one analogy in a single blog but I’m about to break it because for me, management is a recipe. There are different types of cuisine which share some common techniques but taste quite different. Leadership can be part of that recipe and the amount of it is dependent on the dish. It’s also an ingredient that can be used on its own…
Keeping the analogy going, I reckon everyone has their own variant of the management recipe and it changes and develops it over time. Like any traditional recipe, there are an infinite number of ways of making the final dish and sometimes we’re forced to substitute one ingredient for another. There are the straightforward “meat and veg” people and there are the people who (like a former housemate) insist you can’t have a roast dinner without crumbling Walker’s Ready Salted crisps over the top. There are people who slavishly follow recipes to the letter and there are also the Heston Blumenthals of the world who use the same words we do to describe what they do but produce something that looks and feels quite different.
Actually, for me, management and leadership training and textbooks are like recipe books. They give you guidelines for recipes – you’ll need to adjust the proportions of ingredients to get a result that is exactly to your taste. You might need to leave out the mushrooms completely (certainly if you’re cooking for me – I can’t stand them) or increase the amount of chilli to get the end result you’re looking for. But they certainly contain techniques and tools that can improve your cooking, if you choose to use them. And the one truism that applies across every aspect of human endeavour certainly holds here: the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
So yes, for me, management undoubtedly exists – we manage therefore we are managers. But it isn’t an absolute and there is certainly no one “right” way to do it. The combinations are endless. Asking the questions is a good thing. Expressing doubt about what management is or isn’t a good thing. As Descartes himself wrote:
“[W]e cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt … .”