Rethinking Management

In a new book, Julian Birkinshaw urges businesspeople to give more thought to management models.

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Julian Birkinshaw, professor of strategic and international management at London Business School

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. My point is that is a model of management, not the model of management.


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Comment (1)
Gary Ferrulli
Some good points made, but to me (old school) "managements" primary roles are plan, organize, lead, control and recruit.
They also have to "coach and train", develop people, create an environment where there is bottom-up and top-down ideas for constant improvement always out there.
And like it or not, there has to be focus on the bottom line results using the above modle to maximize those.