Monday, September 22, 2003

The Most Dangerous
Management Cult  

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point
than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one -- G.B. Shaw

American management has been in the thrall of an incredibly dangerous and brain-damaged cult since George Bush Junior's father was President. As with any cult, if management just examined the logic of it against known reality, the gauze would be drawn from their eyes, their bodies turned around to face the front of the cave, the fantasy spell broken.

If they just looked at baseball, they'd know it was hot air.

The cult is the "More With Less" fad, the faith that an organization can achieve net gains in work output while downsizing staff or investment or R&D. The "more-with-less" cult has run its intellectual course. A decade ago, you heard this dementia all the time; now, while organizations are behaving the same way (laying off staff or slashing investments while pretending growth can happen), outside of a small handful of delusional amateurs, the chanters know they're just mouthing an empty platitude.

Operationaly, real managers are always looking to either (a) do more with the same, and (b) the same for less, iteratively, incrementally, one step at a time. A real manager never would try to do more with less; if you hear somebody saying that, he either has tertiary syphilis, or knows nothing about managing either people or process or technology. If you are working for an organization with executive management that says this and actually believes it, get out before the whole thing implodes. Only in Communist Chinese prison labor camps and in for-profits that are monopolies is "more-with-less" a net-gain strategy.

Real managers have known this intuitively. Thanks to Megan Santosus, a columnist for CIO magazine, they have hard numbers. Santosus wrote in her most recent Reality Bytes column, "Why More Is Less: Recent evidence shows that multitasking is an enormous waste of your time and your company's money" about research studies that are proving the multi-tasking that ensues from serial killing of staff slots is a terrible drag on effectiveness and even productivity. I won't re-has the article. Read the darned thing. If you are in an organization where executive management chanted "more with less", print it copy it and put it up in every public intersection.

The muti-tasking goes beyond the operational planning limits. It flies in the face of what has been known to be state-of-the-art people management, too. Since the mid-80s, when the book Peopleware by Lister and DeMarco popularized effective management of development teams, even desultory followers of effective practices have known if you interrupt someone who's working in a "zone", it takes an average of 20 minutes for them to return to a productive pace. Load multiple roles on a person, make them cover them in the same day, it's a test lab for creating structural dementia. It strip-mines the victoms while undermining the quantity and quality of work done for the organization.

So how does baseball fit in?

Because baseball is the perfect simple lab to test hypotheses of methods for success, in this case, the possibility of doing "more with less". If you can't do more with less in baseball, you'd better have a robust explanation about why it works outside.

What team believes it can replace an all-star with a scrub and garner more wins? None. "Moneyball" has made the Oakland A's stingy ways widely-known, but their GM, Billy Beane, isn't trying to do more with less. He's trying the classic real manager strategy I mentioned earlier: to do the same with less.

Could the Red Sox dump Nomar Garciaparra in exchange for Enrique Wilsonand expect to win more games with less talent? I don't think anyone who manages a baseball roster believes that for a second. They might try to cobble together other talent with the salary savings they gained in the trade, but that'd be trying to do the same with the same. They might try to work on fundamentals and advance scouting to get additional value from the diminished portfolio that had, but that'd be the Beane (the same with less) approach. Marketing departments of major league teams or their minions, the broadcasters, might try to tell you a stripped-down home team was on the verge of turning it around, but no serious baseball manager believes this.

"More With Less" is a laughable cult. Using baseball as a yardstick makes the obviousness of that inescapable.

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