Musings on Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Communication and the Role of Management
It's axiomatic that work in a knowledge economy depends upon effective communication. However, communication is not merely a function of proximity or technology. It requires a functional level of trust that is inhibited in an organization where management is a rank rather than a role.
"For centuries, we have attempted communication 'downward'. This however, cannot work, no matter how hard and how intelligently we try. It cannot work, first, because it focuses on what we want to say. It assumes, in other words, that the utterer communicates. There can be no communication if it is conceived as going from 'I' to 'thou.' Communication works only from one member of 'us' to 'another.'" - Peter Drucker
Drucker also wrote the following:
Altogether, an increasing number of people who are full-time employees have to be managed as if they were volunteers...What motivates--and especially what motivates knowledge workers--is what motivates volunteers. Volunteers, we know, have to get more satisfaction from their work than paid employees, precisely because they do not get a paycheck. They need, above all, challenge. They need to know the organization's mission and to believe in it. they need continuous training. They need to see results.
Management is necessarily a role rather than a rank. Stephan Haeckel, author of Adaptive Enterprise, writes:
The leadership role is accountable for declaring a viable purpose and scope for the organization, defining the capabilities it wil have, and ensuring their coordination.
Interestingly, Haeckel's prescription is similar to the concept of "mission tactics" espoused in Warfighting, the doctrinal publication of the U.S. Marine Corps (an all-volunteer force):
Mission tactics is just as the name implies: the tactics of assigning a subordinate mission without specifying how the mission need be accomplished.
Key elements of mission tactics include the specification of purpose, intent, and main effort. So, even in the canonical rank-based organization, the role of leadership is to create a coherent environment in order to allow the members of that organization to get their work done with the minimum of direction.
It's more than a little ironic that the U.S. Marines work so hard at decentralizing decision-making when business seems to remain obsessed with manager as celebrity. (Seen The Apprentice?) Jeffrey Nielsen, the author of The Myth of Leadership, sums up:
This...not only keeps decision making at the top of the organization--thus robbing the organization of the intelligence and talents of the vast majority of employees--it also corrupts communication.
It's hard to be smart with poor communication.