Do We Need to Reinvent Management?

Quick, when was the following statement written—1954, 1973 or 2010? “The new model (of management) will have to . . . push power and decision-making down the organization as much as possible, rather than leave it concentrated at the top.”

And what about this one? Was it 1949, 1985 or 2008? “We are dealing with decentralization carried a step further. . . . Such decentralization gives people all along the management line a stimulating feeling of personal freedom; freedom to think and plan boldly; freedom to venture along new and untried paths; freedom to fight back if their ideas or plans are attacked by superiors; freedom to take calculated risks; freedom to fail.”

Well, the correct answers are, respectively, 2010 (from a Wall Street Journal article, published last August, with the provocative title “The End of Management”) and 1949 (from William B. Given Jr.’s book Bottom-Up Management).

If you guessed wrong—or are simply struck by the stunning similarity between these two passages, written more than 60 years apart—then you, like us, may be trying to figure out whether we need to “reinvent management,” a notion being pushed by Gary Hamel, Julian Birkinshaw and others. Or do we simply need to better practice the management principles advanced long ago by William Given and other pioneers, including Peter Drucker?

[EXPAND More]Actually, Drucker kind of played it both ways. He was relentlessly focused on the future. And in his 2002 book Managing in the Next Society, Drucker specifically called for executives to “start experimenting with new corporate forms” and “new models.”

But we also know that the fundamentals he introduced in landmark works now decades old—The Practice of Management; Managing for Results; Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices; Innovation & Entrepreneurship—bear a striking resemblance to many of the prescriptions being served up today by those advocating an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new approach. Among them: giving workers as much freedom and responsibility as possible; getting beyond the organization’s own walls and focusing on the “meaningful outside”; abandoning yesterday to make room for tomorrow.

Rick Wartzman, the Drucker Institute’s executive director, led a panel discussion on this topic at the Drucker Global Forum in Vienna this week. (See his PowerPoint deck here.)

Meantime, though, tell us what you think: Do we really need to reinvent management—or simply go back to the roots?[/EXPAND]


Peter Drucker