Bluffer’s Guide to Management

Having written a none too praising review of The Bluffer’s Guide To Your Own Business, I did not approach The Bluffer’s Guide To Management with any degree of confidence.  Sure enough, the first thing that appeared on flicking through a fairly small and slight paperback volume was on “Gurus and theories”and begins thus:

“Far too much is written far too seriously about management.  You can be reassured that nobody has ever read it all.  Better still, all management literature is biodegradable, so feel free to take a metaphorical shredder to most areas of management literature, especially ‘new management theory’.”

The authors (John Courtis and Elizabeth B Ratcliffe in this case) then go on to devote a few withering paragraphs each to the likes of Drucker, Porter, Peters, Handy, Hamel, Kotler, Mintzberg et al without even a fair and objective appraisal of their contributions to effective management.  They do this in much the same style that I found objectionable in the house style adopted by John Winterson Richards in the case of the Business Bluffer’s guide.

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It’s certainly not that I’m suggesting you should hang on the every word of the people referred to by some (but not themselves) as gurus, but dismissing them wholesale is a very negative approach, since they can and do offer valuable insights or they would never have gained popularity in the first place.  Point is that they have at least done extensive research into business success, not something Mr Courtis and Ms Ratcliffe appear to have bothered with.  Scepticism by all means, but this form cynicism does not help anyone manage anything any better.

However, one point of reference: not only is the sphere of management science and theory crowded, so is the market for self-help guides to management, of which this claims to be one.  However, it contrives to discuss many subjects, incorporates a lot of the cliches of management without actually contributing anything constructive.  It talks about ROI without telling you how to measure ROI; It mentions the “forming/storming/norming/performing” cycle for team performance without giving the remotest insight how you would develop a practice approach; it talks about innovation largely to slag off innovators; and so on.

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If by being a bluffer you are expected to mouth off in vague general terms about a subject without having the first clue what to do, then this book is for you.  But frankly that is worse than useless for anybody in a management position, since you will in practice be found out before you can say “competitive advantage.”  Worse than that, the writers are quick to dismiss other people who write seriously as having vague theories that cannot be applied in practice, but seem to have lost sight of the practical use of their own tedious volume.

My advice is simple: if you want to know and understand management to gain a theoretical construct to back up your practical experience, of the skills and competencies required to be a good manager, don’t look for them here.  Go get the right qualification for the job, then adapt as required through practical experience in order to find what words for you.

If you do look to this book for your wit and wisdom, be prepared to be the hard-bitten manager who spends Friday afternoons propping up the bar in the local pub, the one who gets made redundant when austerity strikes.  Being able to bluff will fool nobody most of the time and certainly won’t give you more depth than a few buzz words.

After all, good management is about being resourceful and taking the best of the good advice, then putting it to your advantage.  A measure of this will be tools and techniques, some will be your work ethic and behaviour in how you motivate and get the best out of your teams, and indeed how you present your achievements to those above you in the pecking order, and how you get yourself noticed.  Good luck!

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