Author Finds Organizations Still Run Like 19th-Century Factories

Posted: January 12, 2012 at 11:59 am, Last Updated: January 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm

By James Greif; video by Paul King

“Management is dead!” declares Mark Addleson, Mason associate professor of public policy and author of “Beyond Management.” In this new book, he explains why the rules, systems and structures favored by management are actually disorganizing and cause breakdowns at work.

“Management is dead because work has changed but management practices have not,” Addleson says. “We can think of management as what we do to organize work to get things done, but most organizations have not adapted to the modern workplace.”

The management systems and structures used today were developed for factories during the industrial era, he says

“The thinking and all the practices around management were designed for a long-gone era,” Addleson says. “We still look at organizations like machines and manage them in highly structured ways. Management is inflexible, top-heavy and outdated.”

He continues: “Manufacturing jobs have all but disappeared. Knowledge workers network, share information, learn from one another, and organize and make decisions collectively. Most workers today have some of these characteristics, whether they are office administrators, restaurant workers, doctors or plumbers.”

In “Beyond Management,” Addleson also details how to replace outdated practices with new ones that empower today’s “knowledge workers.” He also provides strategies that apply to just about any business, nonprofit organization or government entity.

It is widely believed that organizational rules and structures are important to achieving the desired results at work and that someone needs to be in charge. However, Addleson says that knowledge workers are quite capable of organizing themselves, provided there is a shift to responsibility and accountability at work.

“Software developers, for example, need the flexibility to make decisions and manage their own work,” he says. “Adopting agile methods, they tell one another what they’re doing and are engaged in each other’s work without the intervention of management. In many ways, they are archetypes for the modern workplace for knowledge workers.”

A lack of a human element in corporate management has led to a lot of the problems that we saw during the financial crisis over the last few years, Addleson says. “Care and prudence is what we expect from the organizations that handle our money, but most management systems are driven by accounting, and they neither value nor practice the care or accountability that is needed for public trust.”

Undoing cumbersome management takes time, Addleson warns, but he says it is well worth the effort. “Unseating structured management is a tough sell and a long road. There are no easy solutions. What I am trying to do in ‘Beyond Management’ is highlight why organizations are in a mess and what we can do about it.”

Addleson has taught courses on organizations and management and has consulted in the area of organizations and change for more than 30 years. He began his teaching career in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Graduate School of Business, where he headed the school’s general management program and consulted to a variety of organizations.

After joining Mason in 1994, he helped to establish the School of Public Policy’s master’s program in organization development and knowledge management and served as the program’s founding director.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu