Management as a technology

So far, I’ve met a lot of pretty inspirational people. People who work hard, are committed to change, and have visions for a better Ghana. However, I haven’t met many really great managers.

I’m talking about people who make you want to push for excellence, to do a job and blow it out of the water. Delegation tends to be of tasks – draft this memo – rather than of responsibility – manage this project. Even Officers with clear responsibilities and role definition, like a Planner or a Budget, still don’t feel ownership over their work.

There’s two things going on here, I think. The first is that governments and bureaucracy breed a workforce that is not inspired. Pushing paper, even if you have  full control over the contents of that paper, isn’t all that exciting, especially when you’ve got 18,000 more pages to push after this one. The second, though, is more general. There’s a strong “culture of hierarchy” here that demands a command-and-control, do-as-I-say management style, and from everything I’ve heard, this is just as true in the private as the public sector.

It’s gotten me thinking a lot about management in Canada, and I’ve started to think about management theory and management practices as technologies. When you look at the amount of research that is conducted every year on effective management, the number of self-help books on effective leadership, it shows just how much people are investing in this. I took a course on management theory called “Organizational Behavior” in University, and Masters of Business Administration are everywhere.

Off the top of my head, some examples of what I’m thinking about are: MBTI, emotional intelligence, staff empowerment, coaching, leadership styles. A lot of these are probably just “best-practices”, but by so rigorously evaluating them and articulating them, these ideas are very powerful, and very useful. One can choose to use them, to adopt them, or one can choose not to.

Technologies are developed to meet a need, to increase efficiency, and to accomplish a goal. Management theories do all of these things. People have innovated, experimented, studied, evaluated, and evolved these theories and practices until what we have in place in the West is very well developed and I would argue very effective (I can’t quote any stats right now, but my guess is productivity, even ignoring IT changes and the like, has increased, as has employee satisfaction. After all, having a bad manager sucks. Not to say there aren’t still a lot of bad managers out there, but at least there’s that foundation for people to build their skills – there’s a path and tools laid out for them.). Also worth pointing out that they are highly effective in the context in which they were developed, (the West), but even so there must be a good chunk of it that’s transferable.

One of the things that our team does is facilitate “District Coordinating Director Fellowships”, about once a quarter. These meetings bring together the top administrators of Districts together, and are designed to enable peer-to-peer learning. Examples of past sessions are MBTI and self-awareness. They’ve been effective, and the DCDs like them – evidence of this is that, after the first two meetings in which they were paid to attend (common practice here), they attended for free. They’re keen to improve and see the value in these tools and frameworks.

I’ve started to think of this as a way of disseminating technology. “Technology dissemination” is a real buzz word in development, and as with all buzz words, I don’t want to lose meaning in cliché, but I see a lot of parallels, as outlined above.

My big questions I whether some of the lessons learned and best-practices in technology adoption can be translated to effectively building the capacity of managers  in the Ghanaian context? In other words, is looking at these tools and frameworks as technologies to be disseminated ultimately useful? I’m hoping to dig into this a bit in the next little while, researching technology adoption (which I’m FAR from an expert in) and explore this a bit further.

Does this make sense to you, from what you know about technology adoption? Cool idea or pushing an analogy to the breaking point? Looking forward to feedback on this one! Also, I commit to actually responding to comments from here forward. Promise.

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2 Responses to Management as a technology

  1. Belinda says:

    Cool analogy! And no, this isn’t pushing it too far. I think this is something that should be explored more. Since I bombarded you with an extremely long comment last time, I’ll keep this one short. Keep up the insightful posts!

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