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  • Raymond Hofmann

How the practice of management can improve

Updated: Nov 8, 2017

Management was never easy. Just consider what the task of management is: to make an organisation function.


Or as Peter Drucker has simply put it:

The task of management is to make its resources productive.

It is about bringing people together and enabling them to put their diverse experience, talents and skills to good use. It is to help them achieve together what no individual could achieve on their own. And to help them do it over and over again as they work to fulfil their organisation’s purpose.


Perhaps Gary Hamel said it best:

Management is a social technology. The technology of human accomplishment.

But what does this mean? If we take a look at everything that is necessary for human accomplishment in the context of an organisation, and then boil it down to its essence, management really has three essential jobs:

  1. enabling team members to perform in pursuit of a common goal

  2. creating value for customers (ie, execute its business model)

  3. doing both of these extremely well today and even better tomorrow (ie, simultaneously excel at delivery AND innovation)

In a way, there’s a fourth, hidden job of management: and that is to turn all of the above into organisational capabilities, ie, to make sure they do not require constant intervention from managers. Peter Drucker was right when he said:

Management is the life-giving element in every organisation.

Without management, there can be no organisations. No business, no government, no church, no NGO can exist, let alone survive, without good management.


That’s quite a responsibility to bear for management. And with the increasing scale and speed of change we are confronted with today, it has become an even greater task. How do you keep an organisation functioning, relevant and fit for the future in a VUCA world?


The good news is, we know a lot about how to make it happen. The body of sound management knowledge has steadily grown over recent years. Management scholars have developed a lot of good theory helping us think about particular aspects of management. Practitioners have helped us understand how to apply the theory to specific contexts - and how to successfully approach aspects of managements for which we have no good theory yet.


The bad news is, there is also a lot of bad theory and probably even more bad advice based on no theory (mostly disguised as “best practice” or “the x steps to success”). And for the busy practising manager it is often hard to distinguish good from bad.


Furthermore, even the good stuff is not easy to bring to bear fruit in an organisation, mainly because it might

  • run into bad stuff that stops it from working

  • be good stuff but not right for your context

  • run into other good stuff but with which it is not compatible

In most organisations, all three are prevalent. And the root cause is the lack of a carefully designed managment model.


Just as organisations need a sound business model to be successful, they also need a well-designed managment model. While the business model describes how an organisation creates and delivers value to customers in a profitable way, the management model describes “how the work of management gets done” (Julian Birkinshaw).


The work of management, of course, is to build an organisation capable of exploiting its current business model while at the same time innovating future business models: an organisation that has the capacity to renew itself.


The management model describes how an organisation uses the social technology of management to that end. It describes what theory, beliefs, processes and practices people in managerial roles rely on and why.


Every organisation has a management model, but most cannot articulate it. Management models are almost never explicitly designed. Instead, they accidentally evolve over time and typically reflect a diverse set of beliefs and opinions about management (both good and bad), brought in over the years by different people with very different motivations, backgrounds, experience and areas of focus. Most managers are not even aware of the underlying theory and principles they are using (Julian Birkinshaw, Sumantra Ghoshal).


These (de facto) management models typically suffer from one ore more of five dysfunctions:

  • they are stuck in 20th century industrial logic, not suitable for 21st century challenges

  • their design is incomplete or inconsistent

  • they are not fit for purpose (unless the purpose is shipping quarterly numbers)

  • they are not designed for humans (as in both customers and team members)

  • they rely more on luck than on good management theory and sound reasoning (such as hoping that a “best practice” will work, or that an isolated quick fix will produce lasting results)

And so the practice of management, guided by these de facto management models, becomes a barrier to performance in many organisations - and a source of frustration for managers, team members and customers alike. The pure opposite of what it is meant to be: an engine for human accomplishment.


But what if we had a way to design management models with direction, method and purpose? What if a well-designed management model could remove all barriers to performance and unleash an organisation’s full potential?


Management Model Design aims to achieve just that. Stay tuned!

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© 2019 Raymond Hofmann Management

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