Sunday, April 5, 2015

We Are All Soldiers Now

Isn’t it odd that so few management grads today are actually managing anything? Why are a lot of them doing ad hoc work that can be claimed by other fields? My curiosity led me to discover this work by Prof. Rakesh Khurana (an HBS professor )
From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession. is my attempt at a slightly less harsh answer to the same question. Enjoy. All poorly drawn sketches are dedicated to the great Sahil Rizwan. 

Circa 1930s, industry is more complex than it has been in any other time before. Worse, computerization is several decades away. For probably the first time in industrial history, the problems like bookkeeping and personnel management are as daunting as those of production and sales.
This spawns a need for a specialized breed of professionals who can channel and optimize the firms’ resources and deliver financial performance. Most of the time, they don’t operate drills or turn wrenches but supervise the ones who do. To be fair, they are not that far removed from the action. They do sweat it out in the trenches with their troops, taking care of plants, warehouses and sales territories.  These professionals, better known as managers…

…were kind of like the officer cadre in any territorial army. On the battlefield, officers are the ears that receive orders from high command via wireless, the eyes that read maps and mark enemy positions and the brains that issue tactical orders which their soldiers are supposed to follow without question.  In short they are the bridge between the strategic goals laid by the generals (or CXOs) and the tactical, day to day operations on the ground.

Contrast this with how any air force operates. Their pilots are more than just air borne jawaans. While they are handed a target and an action plan before each mission, once the plane takes off – they are pretty much on their own. Various instruments aboard the airplane provide navigation and situational awareness to the pilots, helping them make decisions in mid-air. While they do have squad leaders while hunting in packs, they do not look to them for point to point directions while engaging with the enemy.

Back to the realm of industry. Now in the second decade of the 21st century, enterprise software have taken over several onerous tasks that once tied down middle managers in an endless loop of opening and closing books and managing payroll. Problems such as resource allocation in construction and logistics’ in manufacturing can now be managed easily with dedicated software packages. The modern employee is like a fighter pilot in a cockpit. The information he or she needs to make everyday decisions is readily available and laid out by easy to use systems.

And what about our middle managers? Well for one thing, traditional industry needs fewer of them. While emerging industries like e-commerce offer a gamut of roles both old (like marketing) and new (like big data analytics) where they fit in and have a lot to offer, shouting orders now won’t do. The MBA grad now has to sweat it out with his or her troops.

We are all soldiers now. 

No comments :

Post a Comment