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Thought Thursdays
Is management out of date?

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It is inevitable that participants in management programmes will ask whether the concept of management is still appropriate or what the future is of the concept of management.  

A number of well-established researchers, analysts and experts in the field of management considered whether the concept of management is out of date and argued the opposite – namely that management is still relevant in businesses and other organisations.  

In 2010, Birkenshaw described the 21st century challenges for management and argued that management must be reinvented to address these challenges. Likewise, Hamel wrote in 2007 that the 21st century challenges were exposing the limitations of the current management model. He suggested that management innovation had the capacity to create a long-term advantage for business.

Some years before, Peter Drucker argued that current realities in the business environment had become obstacles to the existing theory of management and the practice thereof. He suggested that managers should consider a new management paradigm – management's concern and management's responsibility that affect the performance of the business.

In 2003, Peters discussed the new context in which managers were confronted to manage their businesses successfully, and concluded that management had to be re-imagined to do so.

Against this background it might be useful to consider Birkenshaw's suggestion to reinvent management. He identified two main reasons for, as he described it, the corruption of management. First, the growth of the modern industrial corporation led people to equate the style of management practised in a large factory with the practice of management in general. The second reason was the popularity of thinking about leadership management's expense, so that the job description of management ended up becoming narrower and less attractive over the years.

Subsequently, he concluded that there were three views of management. The first view suggested that management as a discipline essentially was the same as it had ever been; another view was that we radically rethink the basic principles of management, and, thirdly, his view of management suggested that managers became more conscious of the choices they made about how to get the work done. Furthermore, he suggested that we need to develop a more comprehensive understanding of what management really is – i.e. about making better decisions. Therefore he constructed a four-step model to make better decisions and ultimately reinvent management.

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A summary of the elements of this model are:

Understanding: Managers must be aware of and be able to apply the management principles they should be using to manage their business. These principles should be driving the day-to-day processes, procedures and practices to get things done in the business.

Evaluating: Managers must assess whether their business's management principles are suited to the business environment in which they are doing business. One must be aware of the pros and cons of each of these management principles. Furthermore, these management principles must be the basis of each decision, activity and task to be performed in the business. They give the manager confidence to make the right decisions.

Envisioning: Managers must be prepared to identify new ideas and try out new practices, as a way of enforcing their choices. During this process it is worthwhile to take a creative approach to envision new ways of working.

Experimenting: Once managers have decided on a new way forward, it is advisable to start small and experimental ways to monitor the process carefully. By doing so, they develop a new management model that can be a source of advantage in the competitive management environment.

Birkenshaw described an assessment model to assess a business. This model focused on four primary sets of activities, namely setting goals, motivating employees, coordinating activities and making decisions. For each of these dimensions he attached a traditional principle. See management principles that should diagnose any businesses' management model in the table below:


​Managing across activitiesBureaucracy​​Emergency
​Managing down decision Hierarchy​Collective wisdom​
Managing objectives​Alignment​Obliquity​
Managing individual motivation​Extrinsic​Intrinsic​
​TodayFive years from now​


This model or framework can assist you to diagnose the performance of your business.

Subsequently Birkenshaw identified four generic management models that could be considered to reinvent management.  The Discovery Management Model is often applied in start-up businesses and entrepreneurial environments – e.g. sole proprietors, small businesses and private education institutions. Google displays most of the key characteristics of the Discovery Management Model.

The Planning Management Model is used in large, established businesses which have a clear set of strategic objectives and a routinised set of processes for getting the work done.  McDonald's is a good example of the Planning Management Model. The fast food industry, tourism and guest house industry can also consider implementing this model.

The Quest Management Model demonstrates clear objectives, and motivates people primarily through extrinsic motivation, and gives its people enormous degrees of freedom on how to reach their objectives. The banking industry and financial institutions are examples of this model.

And finally, the Science Management Model uses fairly tight and standardised procedures, but encourages employees to seek out and address opportunities wherever they arise. This model is usually used by engineering companies, construction companies and even in the health and medical professions.

Birkenshaw suggested that the four key steps, namely understanding, evaluating, envisioning and experimenting, briefly described above, should be followed to implement a new management model.

This is the challenge for every manager in the business or corporate environment – reinvent management and implement a new management model in the business.  

Against this background, it is obvious that the concept of management is not out of date. On the contrary, it is on the forefront of continuous research and development through processes of innovation, re-imagining a new management paradigm, and reinventing.  


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Dr Liano Greybe has been a facilitator at USB-ED since 1997. His areas of expertise is general management, including strategic management, organisational behaviour and Leadership (which he lectures on our NMDP).​



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