Management?: A book review by Bob Morris

Management? It’s Not What You Think!
Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand, and Joseph Lampel
AMACOM (2010)

If conventional wisdom about management were a piñata….

What we have here is a collection of highly unconventional perspectives, presented within a highly unconventional format, one that initiates a collective assault on conventional wisdom about management. Henry Mintzberg is the master of revels and has enlisted an impressive of group of iconoclasts, notably Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel. Throughout the narrative of eight chapters, they and others share their thoughts about what management is…and isn’t, about what effective management is…and isn’t, and about the challenges that managers face today that are unprecedented in terms of peril and complexity.

The material certainly achieves its specified objective: “to get us all thinking again. Opening perspectives on this fascinating business of management, for managers themselves, those who work with managers, and anyone who aspires to join their ranks.” To varying degree in sometimes quite different ways, the articles challenge (if not obliterate) conventional wisdom that frequently resembles a piñata.

In Ricardo Semler’s contribution, for example, excerpted from his HBR article (September/October 1989), he explains that his company in Brazil, Semco “doesn’t have systems or staff functions or analysts or anything like that. What we have people who either sell or make, and there’s nothing in between. Is there a marketing department? Not on your life. Marketing is everybody’s problem. Everybody knows the price of the products. Everybody knows the cost. Everybody has the monthly statement that says exactly what each of them makes, how much bronze is costing us, how much overtime we paid, all of it. And the employees know that 23% of the after-tax profit is theirs.”

Later in the article, he adds “…Employees can paint the walls any color they like. They can come to work whenever they decide. They can wear whatever clothing makes them comfortable. They can do whatever the hell they want. It’s up to them to see the connection between productivity and profit and act on it.”

I think Mintzberg and his collaborators thus end the book in an especially appropriate way, deferring to Ricardo Semler and then to an observation by Aesop (620-560 BC); “After all is said and done, more is said than done.” In less than 130 pages, the reader is provided with a wide variety of perspectives and a wealth of unconventional insights such as those found in the Semler contribution.

 

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