Management By Absence

Many years ago when I spent much of my time managing projects I noticed an interesting phenomenon; when I had to be away, attending a conference or something, the projects leapt ahead. I called this phenomenon “Management By Absence”. (I guess I ought to insert a TM here).
I wrote something similar about three years ago that may be worth repeating now that “the manager’s right to manage” seems to have led us into an unholy, unmanageable mess:
“I know I keep on going on going on about Simon Caulkin, but he does write some good stuff. Last Sunday’s piece, “Adrift in a parallel universe” was filled with gems. I think my favourite was this one:
“Is management a hoax? In a recent survey of 3.5 million employees worldwide, research firm Sirota Survey Intelligence found that most workers did their best work when managers were out of the way. Management bureaucracy, blame-placing, inconsistent decision-making, delaying and time-wasting all interfered with their ability to do their work properly. In other words, the less management the better.”
It reminded me of one of the findings from research Shoshana Zuboff did in the 80s and wrote up in “In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power” published in 1988. She found a similar phenomenon in the recently computerised Pulp Mills, where the night shift, less interfered with by managers, was more productive than the day shift.
Caulkin’s main point was the disjunction between management speak and what is actually happening. I would take it a little further him. I have a great admiration for managers, who are some of the most creative people around. The problem is our confusion of language. Most of the people who are labelled “managers” aren’t. They are administrators and apparatchiks, whose language reflects their bureaucratic nature.
Now there is nothing wrong with administrators and administration, indeed they play an important part in maintaining the stability of organisations. The problem comes when what they do is confused with management, which it frequently is and where we can see that their role becomes one of subtracting value from an organisation rather than adding it.
Maybe the answer is to start a campaign for real managers?”
(“Another kind of less is more”, August 31, 2005 – Note the Zuboff link is more up to date than the original.)