Deliver, meaning to liberate (deliver us from evil), to give birth or to take something somewhere, has become ubiquitous in contemporary management speak. This is particularly the case in the UK after the Labour government set up what they termed the PMDU (Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit) in the 00s under the aegis of the now knighted Michael Barber. Barber’s book Deliverology – a Field Guide for Education Leaders is used in the public sector and civil services throughout the world. The idea behind deliverology is to set up a small department, reporting directly to the accountable leader, which turns broad social aims, improving the level of literacy in schools, for example, into measurable performance indicators. Systematic programmes are then developed with aim of advancing current performance amongst practitioners, who might then need to report on a regular basis on what they are doing with more or less elaborate monitoring forms . Although such programmes are likely to be ‘evidence-based’, i.e. they will have engaged with practice in a particular field and will be informed by research, they are nonetheless more often than not top-down, technocratic and target-driven. No area of the British public sector is left untouched by this technocratic, target-driven approach to ‘reform’. Continue reading
Trajectory (trans meaning across, jecto meaning to throw), the curve that a body such as a planet describes in space, a path or line of development similar to the same, is a word which is frequently used in management speak. It is what Lackoff and Johnson (1980) refer to as a ‘metaphor we live by’ in the sense that it makes intuitive, cognitive and bodily sense. It’s a spatial metaphor
with an implicit understanding that we launch our project or plan, and it rises in a gentle curve of our plotting towards an end point we have preplanned. Like physicists or rocket scientists, we can steer the vessel, the organisation or the department, in a calculated way. The appeal is also to engineering science and cybernetic systems thinking.
A document I read recently outlining a strategy had the word ‘trajectory’ peppered through it a number of times and it made me wonder about what else was being communicated. The course of the trajectory was unsurprisingly ‘upwards’, towards a better, improved position for the organisation. The metaphor implies calculation and control, as well as an ability to predict in advance what ‘better’ and ‘improved’ is going to mean. It fits broadly within the ‘life as a journey’ metaphor, where we have a destination and/or a ‘direction of travel’. It also carries with it implicit inclusion/exclusion criteria. If we want to reach the same destination, the improved position, then of course we need to travel together on this trajectory and get on the same bus/train/rocket. Otherwise we might get left behind, or we might reveal ourselves to be the kind of staff members who don’t want to travel in the first place, in which case we might not belong on the team. Anyway, who would set themselves against improvement, refusing to travel to a better destination? It’s rare to find people who want to be left behind.
So the word trajectory does a lot of work. It conveys simply the idea that managers promoting the strategy are in control and can make predictions about how things will turn out: if the calculations have been done correctly, then we will definitely arrive on the moon. It is deterministic, plotting one course. The metaphor makes instinctive sense that we can’t make any changes unless ‘we know where we’re going’ and have a ‘destination’ in mind. And at the same time it arouses a degree of anxiety about being included or excluded, along with the everyday anxiety of all travellers about showing up on time, so we don’t miss the train/opportunity.
So was it right that he was sacked or not?
Those of you who are not cricket fans, or not UK residents (or both) may not have heard that Kevin Pietersen, England’s best but most unpredictable and unreliable batsman, has been told that he no longer figures in the plans of those managing the England cricket team. This follows a disastrous tour of Australia where the team lost all of their matches in the annual grudge series with the Australian team known as the Ashes. (The competition is called the Ashes following England’s shock defeat to Australia in 1882, when the Sporting Times printed a mock obituary stating that English cricket had died and its ashes had been sent to Australia. Every year since then the England team has struggled to wrest them back).
What is interesting about the sacking is the soul-searching it has provoked in the press well beyond the sports pages. This is not just because sport, to bowdlerize Clausewitz, is war by other means (or if you like, and after Elias, the civilising of our aggressive instincts in highly interdependent societies), but because it appeals to our sense of identity, our ‘heroic we’. Pietersen’s sacking has provoked very strong emotion in a wide variety of people, not all of them avid cricket fans. Clearly, it’s not just about the game.
I began to argue in the last but one post that the complexity sciences are adduced by a wide variety of scholars and commentators who are writing or talking about organisational change, and that this phenomenon may be indicative of the pressure that more linear ways of understanding change are under. Many people realise instinctively, and from their own experience, that the taken for granted ways of thinking about change, input-process-output, are inadequate for describing what actually takes place when they are caught up in organisational life. However, I also went on to argue that there is still a very strong tendency to try and instrumentalise the complexity sciences. If you like, these commentators are having their cake and eating it at the same time: on the one hand they say that organisations are very complex places, on the other hand they argue that complexity can still somehow be harnessed by some managerial approach or other. This manifests itself in a variety of different forms, from those people who claim that they can help your organisation model the complexity you are experiencing, perhaps with a computer model or a systems diagram, through to those who claim they have a unique method, which you can buy off them or be trained in, which will help you manage the complexity in your organisation. In a blog I came across the other day the author was arguing that managers can ‘manage the evolutionary possibilities of the present’ in their organisations.
Previously I have argued that during the last two decades or so strong ideological claims have been made for the unique abilities of managers both to identify, shape and manage change. A cursory glance at the recruitment pages of the daily newspapers will produce a number of different advertisements where managers are sought who can ‘drive change’ in an organisation. Clearly there is no job too big for the claims of management as a discipline: it can manage change, complexity and evolution. Continue reading
In an article coming out next month (Vol 30, 2010) in the Journal of Public Administration and Development I responded to an invitation to write about the future of development management from a complexity perspective. This involved forming a view as to whether there is such a thing as development management, as well as dealing with ideas about how the future arises from the present. On what basis might one predict a future for anything, and what would these predictions say about our theories of causality?
The article argues that development management borrows heavily from management ideas that prevail in other sectors, particularly but not exclusively, New Public Management. In other words, many of the concepts, assumptions, grids, frameworks and instruments of management that get taken up widely in the public sector, and in the private sector, are also widely used in development organisations. One is just as likely to find managers in development organisations talking about their ‘niche’ and their ‘brand’, undertaking strategic planning, setting ‘stretch targets’, and worrying about effectiveness and efficiency as in any other sector. There are obvious differences, but at the same time managers in development organisations are working with very similar theories, implicit or explicit, to those adopted by managers in all kinds of other organisations. Is this such a surprise if they have management qualifications from the same business schools?
In a similar vein to the last post, I came across a report which has been produced recently on the education of 14-19 year olds in Britain entitled Education for All. One of the themes of the report is the way in which the language and concepts of management have prevailed in the sector and in doing so have reduced the understanding of what education might mean:
“As the language of management and performance has advanced, so we have proportionately lost a language of education which recongises the intrinsic value of pursuing certain types of question, or trying to make sense of reality (physical, social, economic and moral), of seeking understanding, of exploring through literature and the arts what it means to be human…” Continue reading