Thursday, February 06, 2014

Complications with managerialism

My first reaction on reading Lorenzo's The curse of managerialism was to muse on the reasons why the rise of managerialism as an ism should have been so associated with the decline of management as a craft or even an art. My second reaction was to try to identify why I instinctively disagreed with him. After all, I too, think that managerialism is a curse. I, too, hate narrow input-output approaches with their key KPIs and have long railed about them. And I totally agree that corporatist approaches in Australia's University sector have had some very nasty results.

Last week UNE VC Jim Barber resigned, and I am writing a short historical piece on UNE's various VCs for next week's Armidale Express. This is not an indirect shot at Jim. Rather, re-reading some of the history has just envenomed some of my pet hates. After all, they almost destroyed my University!

The waking point came when I followed a Lorenzo's link through to the wikipedia page on managerialism. This page is actually about ideology, whereas the material I wrote concentrated on the history of trends in management and especially public administration. Those trends created what was to be called managerialism, but they were not, of themselves, ideological in the way that word is normally used. However, the way some of them played out in practice was affected by what we can think of as ideology.

My attacks on those trends are not ideological, purely practical. They don't work. I say this with something of a sense of irony, for I espoused many of them in the early days.

To illustrate, take the obsession with measurement. This came out of the standards movement in part, in part out of the management practitioners such as Galbraith or later Deming, in part from McNamara and the early growth of program budgeting.  This is where inputs, outputs and outcomes gained their public sector power. It was aided by, depended on, the growth of computational technology.  That's a simplistic explanation, but the process has very little to do with ideology.


Legal Eagle said...

Don't even start me on the obsession with measurement. It means that people get by with ticking boxes regardless of how well they do they job.

Rummuser said...

One of the reasons that I was not a popular guest lecturer in the local schools of management, was my emphasis on the qualitative aspects of management and using the quantitative ones as guidelines only. I think that with a advent of IT as such an overbearing presence in business, it was inevitable that the emphasis shifted to the quantitative aspects, particularly when the entire culture is quarterly returns / results oriented and the old fashioned value of bilateral loyalty between the employer and the employee having for all practical purposes vanished. I am glad that I am retired.

Evan said...

I think there is much truth in, "Quantitative is only qualitative" - for complex phenomena (like, say, those involving people).

Rummuser said...

Jim Belshaw said...

Or, within limits, how badly, LE!

Nicely put, Evan. Although some of the measures that I have seen are downright dangerous - its called the fallacy of number.

I obviously agree with your point, Ramana. And that article is a case of physician heal thyself.

Anonymous said...

On that Wikipedia page that both you and Lorenzo linked to there is an article by Prof. J Quiggin, responded to by Prof. K Parrish. I thought their thoughts were well organised.

'Managerialism' needs maybe a redefinition, because it has become quite derogatory. Neither this post nor Lorenzo's addresses this. Managerialism basically refers to the over-reliance upon 'business metrics' by which I mean 'measurable outcomes'. This is quite understandable, given several parts of the hierarchy rely basically upon their success in 'moving' those metrics towards the end result: more performance for less effort.

But neither you nor Lorenzo, nor in fact Profs Q and P suggest any alternative; therefore why should your views be given any weight - other than that of ballast?


ps: I am having some trouble with 'Captcha' so if this double posts - my apologies...

Jim Belshaw said...

You did post twice, kvd; both got caught in the spam trap. If you look at what I have written over time, I suspect that we are not that far about. From a quick scan, Ken seems to be running along the same historical line as me.

Will respond in more detail later in the weekend. I'm off now, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

AS you might recall, Jim, I was one who saw the inability of those imposing performance measures on programs with qualitative outputs to even explain convincingly how they were to be measured. That would be our problem, and we would be told afterwards whether or not our KPIs were up to scratch.

Anonymous said...

The end result was the acceptance of a social order in which many ganas and sanghas existed, but none were sovereign and none were committed to any general egalitarian view of society. They were committed instead to a hierarchy in which they were promised a secure place. Such a notional hierarchy seems to have been constructed in North India by the fifth century A.D.

Ramana may care to comment, but my impression is that this jostling for place, this measurement of others as a justification for one's place in the hierarchy, however measured, is not new.

All that is new is the terminology.


(Ramana, the above is from a discussion of early Indian republics (aka democratic city-states) which I found quite fascinating)

Anonymous said...

John Quiggin's blog has some good stuff on managerialism. Loved P M Lawrence's comments on 'university managerialism': bored academics who, inter alia, are moved to establish international branches of Australian universities in places like South Africa (Monash) and Turkey (UNE), etc. Talk about 'other people's money'!


Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, after these years of interchange between us, I sometimes find it hard to remember who thought of what first|

That post by John Q and the exchange with Ken P is is a good one. In reference to your question re alternatives, kvd, you have to distinguish between techniques, the way those techniques are applied and the mental models that guide the application.

As DG notes, the application of corporatist models, in this case I prefer that word because managerialism is a different if linked model,in a university environment has had some very bad effects.