In a new book, Julian Birkinshaw urges businesspeople to give more thought to management models.
Most executives spend a reasonable amount of time thinking about the business model for their organization. But how much time do they spend considering the company’s management model? Probably not enough, according to Julian Birkinshaw, a professor of strategic and international management at London Business School. In Birkinshaw’s most recent book, Reinventing Management: Making Smart Choices for Tapping Your Company’s Potential (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), he argues that businesspeople should think more explicitly about the management choices they make when running a company. That’s a topic Birkinshaw also explored in a Winter 2009 article in MIT Sloan Management Review that he coauthored with Jules Goddard, a fellow of the Centre for Management Development at London Business School. MIT Sloan Management Review senior editor Martha E. Mangelsdorf spoke with Birkinshaw about his new book. Here are a few excerpts from that interview, edited for clarity.
In Reinventing Management, you broach the idea that management has been corrupted over the last 100 years. Can you say a little bit more about that? “Corrupted” is a strong word, and it’s deliberately a bit provocative. I don’t actually mean managers have become corrupt and been sent to jail — although as we know a few of them have! I mean “corrupted” as in the word has become tainted in use. When you use the word “management,” a lot of people immediately think of terms like narrow-minded, controlling, budgeting and planning. Somehow we’ve managed to denigrate management to the extent that it’s no longer actually deemed to be a subject that we should think about or aspire to. No kid today ever grows up thinking, “I want to be a manager.” So we’ve got a problem in that the word has lost its sense of vitality. I think that the corruption of management as a word is partly the result of a 100-year period of trying to make sense of the big, industrial, hierarchical, bureaucratic company. All of the words we use around management now are essentially words about how you manage dehumanized, standardized machines that pump out millions and millions of identical products.