The Power of Traditional Management

I am one of many authors and bloggers these days who are writing about challenges to the traditional, command-and-control approach to management. And I will continue to do so, because I think the evidence is compelling and the rewards are significant.

But it is important to recognize that compelling evidence (unfortunately) doesn't always win the argument. Traditional management has seen a slew of challenges over the last several decades--many of them quite compelling--and management won each time. Here's a quote from Chapter 2 of When Millennials Take Over (p 20):

Over the years, researchers and practitioners have certainly launched some challenges to the mechanical approach to running organizations. As early as the late 1920s, researchers started examining the human factors in production, discovering that social factors influenced performance much more than previously realized, and things like group norms and the “informal organization” also played an important part. In the 1940s, psychologist Kurt Lewin and others developed the new field of Organization Development, which focused on group dynamics and organizational learning. In 1960, MIT Business School professor Douglas McGregor published his management classic, The Human Side of Enterprise, which made the famous distinction between what he termed the “Theory X” and “Theory Y” approaches to management, with the X cohort of managers believing workers are fundamentally lazy and need to be coerced to produce, and the Y cohort believing employees are self-motivated and need to be supported to let their full potential be realized.

These more human-centered ideas, however, have never successfully challenged the dominance of the machine model of management. Even though our economy and society have shifted out of the industrial and manufacturing age and into the information age, our mechanical approach to management hasn’t changed.

So what's different this time? This time we have the Millennials on the side of change, and the sheer size of that generation means they will have an impact. And their values are closely aligned with some of the other big changes that have been happening in society (e.g., the social internet revolution). Change is coming. Is your organization ready? Is your organization truly compatible with the Millennial generation?

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