Looking Up and Looking Around
Hey there, here is an essay I wrote for one of my business subjects - Looking Up and Looking Around introduction. Seeing as I do not actually work in the field it will be interesting to see how true or false some of the points I make are. NOTE: The second half of the essay is on another one of my threads. Thanks Management is typically thought to be the place where calm, considered and well thought through decisions are taken. Drawing upon writings about the realities of managerial work and the nature of the management advice industry, why might we question this conventional view?
Jackall’s (1988) text ‘Looking up and looking around’ looks beyond the facade and exposes the realities that make up the inner-workings of the managerial position. The notion of ‘looking up and looking around’, as explained by Jackall (1988) to be a manager’s inability to make “gut decisions” and the need to add people to his/her problem to pass blame is far removed from the widely held belief in the ‘consensus manager’; “[a manager] who brings his team together through adroit persuasion to achieve a communally defined goal…” (Jackall 1988, p. 5). This conventional view on managerial work is challenged by Huczynski (1993) in ‘Explaining the succession of management fads’ who furthers Jackall’s (1988) points by highlighting and then exploring the various ideological fads management seek as quick fix solutions to managerial issues. The adoption of such fads can understandably be seen as a solution that offers most sense of security to a manager because it removes the need for the managers themselves to find a resolution as the fad itself scaffolds the solution for them.
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The definition of ‘management idea’ provided by Kramer on page 444 of ‘Explaining the succession of management fads’; “organised knowledge applicable to a relatively wide area of circumstances… [that] assists managers to analyse and explain the underlying causes of a given business situation” (Huczynski 1993, p. 444), reiterates this underlying need in managers to apply a ‘one size fits all’ solution to personnel and human resource management problems.
The growing trend for managers to handle organisational dilemmas in such a way, as indicated by the ever growing management consultancy industry, demonstrates furthermore why people should question the stereotypical description of the managerial position. John Roberts’ (1984) ‘The moral character of management practice’ exposes managers who disregard decisions that will benefit the company and staff to achieve individual goals. Roberts (1984) illuminates the issues surrounding managerial work that conflict with conventional perspectives on managers through application of a case study.
It becomes apparent in studying Jackall’s ‘Looking up and looking around’ why the view that managers, being in an authoritative position due to their apparent decisiveness and competence, should be challenged. Jackall (1988) highlights how the managerial role is becoming increasingly devoid of calm, considered and well thought through decision making as it is being substituted for routinized and proceduralized decision making processes (Jackall 1988, p. 76).
Managers at all levels are encouraged to follow policy in finding a solution to a problem. Implementation of policy is favoured over “substantive reflection and critical reasoning” (Jackall 1988, p. 76). Jackall notes on page 75 that “Many lower echelon managers see themselves as little more than highly paid clerks” and then on page 76 “Even at higher levels of management, one sees ample evidence of an over-riding emphasis on technique rather than on critical reasoning”.
Panic and the anxiety of being in a decision making position will influence a manager’s decision to not spend time considering and consolidating various methodologies to find the best possible solution to an organisational issue. Rather, managers who are pressed for time may opt to follow pre-determined and highly routinized set of procedures outlining a generic solution; “We have training programs to teach people how to manage, we have courses, and all the guys know the rhetoric and they know how to repeat it” (Jackall 1988, p. 8). Apart of the standardizing of administration is to rid of their being any chance a manager might require to “fly by the seat of the pants” (Jackall 1988, p. 76). For example in the company Alchemy Incorporated, high-end managers were given the handbook entitled ‘Procedures for Creativity in Management’ (Jackall 1988, p. 76). The definition and nature of creativity opposes the parameters that are inextricably linked to procedure and yet attempts are still made to “control the uncontrollable”.
The nature of rigid procedure leaves policy easily subject to exploitation. Policy which requires managers to work with other personnel to find a solution will be viewed in some manager’s minds as an opportunity to ‘spread the blame’ if the solution reached is unsatisfactory. An upper-middle level manager explains on page 78 of ‘Looking up and looking around’ how managers exploit select policy by saying, “…if a decision has to be made, involve as many people as you can so that, if things go south, you’re able to point in as many directions as possible. The quote prompts us to understand why the conventional view of managerial work is so hard to debunk as it is so easy for managers to mask the real intentions of their actions as team-work – an admirable and sought-after quality. Jackall (1988) points out how this style of management ultimately leads to poor business decisions and scapegoating; “…many managers become extremely adept at sidestepping decisions altogether…. all the while projecting an air of command, authority and decisiveness, leaving those who actually do decide to carry the ball alone in the open field” (Jackall 1988, p. 0). Managers are also exchanging integrity for longevity in a cut-throat corporate world. Decisions are being made by managers for the short-term with the sole purpose to appease superiors. It is not uncommon for managers to make decisions that benefit the business in the short-term with full knowledge their decision(s) will be detrimental in the future. Often a time the detriment that results from such a decision is far greater then the short-term benefits reaped by the firm earlier.
This is exemplified on page 81 of ‘Looking up and looking around’ whereby a gigantic battery required by a coking plant was in a state of disrepair and a decision regarding whether to fix the battery now or some time in the future needed to be made. Managers realised if they acted to fix the battery then and there the funds the CEO wanted for other investments would diminish. Evidently, no decision was made by managers, effectively making the decision by default to fix the battery at a later date. It collapsed beyond repair some time after, ceasing production.
A sound business decision in this instance would have been to fix the battery whilst it was fixable. Although it would have been at the expense of a decreased net profit in the short-term due to the increased expenditure (on fixing the battery) in the long run it would have resulted in the chemical company saving millions. Foresight is being overlooked by managers to achieve what they and like-minded people will view as ‘success’ in the meantime, in this example, that would have been the ability to maintain short-term cash reserves for other investments as wanted by the CEO.
Consequently, after reviewing Jackall’s (1988) critical perspective on the managerial position it becomes obvious why managers aren’t necessarily what many people consider them to be. The utilization of well-established and agreed upon procedures by managers as apart of the decision making process along with the scapegoating of fellow employees as permitted by rigid policies highlights the realities of managerial work. Jackall (1988) demonstrates in ‘Looking up and looking around’ why managers aren’t necessarily as decisive and original as people or they themselves make themselves out to be.
Jackall (1988) notes that “for the most part” managers are happy to make full use of pre-existing routines to find solutions (Jackall 1988, p. 77). He also describes situations where procedure becomes inadequate at solving issues (Jackall 1988, p. 77). In these situations, as drawn upon by Huczynski (1993) in ‘Explaining the succession of management fads’, managers may turn to external procedures or instructions possibly in the form of management fads such as team building and motivational training to solve dilemmas involving managers working in any sector, from human resource to finance (Huczynski 1993, p. 443).