“The practice of management is badly misunderstood by management scientists who confuse thinking with merely being logical.” — Ted Levitt,Thinking About Management

Far too many organizations are ruled by bureaucrats and technocrats either in management or staff support roles. One of their (often unconscious) driving motives is to “eliminate the human factor.” They feel that their technology, systems, and processes would work so much better if it weren’t for all the people always messing things up.

Here are some telltale signs and examples of technomanagement:

  • Bureaucratic language is a dead giveaway of a technomanager. In talking about cross-training and moving people around, one bureaucrat called it “rotationality.” He said it with a straight face and everyone in the room nodded knowingly.

    Hierarchical language also shows where many technomanagers are coming from. “How many people work for you?” (to which one dissatisfied manager replied, “about half”), “subordinates” (and its especially repulsive companion “superiors”), “staying on top of things,” “my people,” and “down the organization,” show the need many technomanagers have to dominate and control.

  • A senior manager in a professional services company assigned a staff support person to fix the marketing efforts of their divisions. It didn’t work. The failed effort sprang from an all too typical view of the organization as segmented and separate functions and divisions. But marketing couldn’t be separated from running the business. Business development (sales) people weren’t effectively trained and supported to position the larger strategy or new market position (they got a one-day information session and a few updates).

    A key division that provided the umbrella strategic services to position and pull through the core business services, was forced to continually justify itself as a stand-alone, profitable business to the accountants running the company. So the structure of the organization couldn’t support working across a broader market that called for integrated divisions serving customers through regional (rather than head office) management.

  • Management’s needs, goals, and perspectives are the starting point for all activities. Managers and their staff professionals are the brains and employees are the hands. Employees serve their managerial masters and do as they are told. Broad business perspectives and strategies, operational performance data, problem solving and decision making authority, and cross-functional skills are kept by management.
  • In a financial crunch, technomanagers often “cut heads,” “trim the fat,” and “tighten belts,” in short-term attempts to bring costs down. While wholesale slashing and burning can be a short-term success, it’s often a long-term disaster. Not only is the organization weakened and demoralized — while customer service plummets — but, in addition, the fundamental cost structure hasn’t really been changed. So costs creep back up.
  • Technomanaged companies are head-office-driven. Field professionals have little input to product development priorities, marketing focus, accounting systems, etc. Their only means of providing input is on committees (which take months to meet and decide anything), by screaming the loudest (or to the right political player), or by working through the entrenched hierarchy. There are few mechanisms or channels to systematically collect field input on emerging or latent market needs/trends. Accountants aren’t out in the real world looking behind and beneath the numbers and learning how revenues are built.
  • The quality movement gave rise to a new breed of technomanager — the qualicrat. These support professionals see the world strictly through data and analysis and their quality improvement tools and techniques. While they work hard to quantify the “voice of the customer,” the face of current customers (and especially potential new customers) is often lost. Having researched, consulted, and written extensively on quality improvement, I am a big convert to, and evangelist for, the cause. But some efforts are getting badly out of balance as customers, partners, and team members are reduced to numbers, charts, and graphs.
  • In his book, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein, professor of management at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reports on one of his studies of “IT (Information Technology) assumptions about people and learning.” Some of his most deadly findings include “technology leads and people adapt,” “all people can and should learn whatever is required to use the technology” and “people already know how to communicate and manage; therefore, IT needs only to enhance these processes.”