“The Brazillians of Management”

Clicking around the Harvard Business Review website, my eye was caught by the headline Why American Management Rules the World. This was news to me, as I’m used to thinking of American Management in terms of the fall of the domestic auto industry, profit-grubbing financial services, and Dilbert. Of course this isn’t the whole picture, but I’d never really given it as much thought. A group of European researchers, though, have been looking deeper into the question of management competitiveness.

They’ve come to this surprising conclusion:

After a decade of painstaking research, we have concluded that American firms are on average the best managed in the world. This is not what we — a group of European researchers — expected to find. But while Americans are bad at football (or soccer, as it’s known as locally), they are the Brazilians of Management.

It’s a fascinating article, as it highlights the characteristics and qualities of management excellence in a concise and understandable manner. As a bonus, there’s a useful link to the research group’s website, where you can benchmark your company against their data for manufacturers, retail outlets, hospitals, or schools.

Clicking through the survey-style questions is a quick education in the range quality in management practice, albeit quite generally, in those industries. By reading through the questions, I think I can gather more understanding of what constitutes excellence in operations, performance, target-setting, and talent management.

For example, here’s one scale from Manufacturing – Performance Monitoring – Performance Review (the numbers are point values, used to assess where your company is on the scale of management competitiveness):

  1. Performance is reviewed infrequently or in an un-meaningful way e.g. only success or failure is noted.
  2. Between 1 and 3
  3. Performance is reviewed periodically with both successes and failures identified. Results are communicated to senior management. No clear follow-up plan is adopted.
  4. Between 3 and 5
  5. Performance is continually reviewed, based on indicators tracked. All aspects are followed up ensure continuous improvement. Results are communicated to all staff

The key principles here are, as I interpret them, meaningful measurement, continuous review of indicators, and transparency to all. That leads to a whole boatload of other questions, of course, but it’s a good start.

Here’s another one from Manufacturing – Target Setting – Time Horizon that should sound familiar to all you productivistas:

  1. Top management’s main focus is on short term targets
  2. Between 1 and 3
  3. There are short and long term goals for all levels of the organisation. As they are set independently, they are not necessarily linked to each other
  4. Between 3 and 5
  5. Long term goals are translated into specific short term targets so that short term targets become a “staircase” to reach long term goals

That’s the difference between scratching out a living day-by-day and an action plan with built-in feedback building toward a long-term goal. While I’m just a guy trying to make a living out of his home office so I don’t have to work for anyone else, I am very much interested in any principles that contribute to excellence. Besides, I face management challenges as I interact with business partners and the network of co-conspirators I’m slowly building.

I’m not sure if people who haven’t been a manager or experienced management would be able to derive the same enjoyment from this article as I, let alone apply in the way I’m planning (I’ve captured screen shots of it all for later analysis), but if you’re interested in synthesizing your own understanding of people in a goal-seeking institution, you might find it as fascinating as I. Look through the comments too—Nicholas Bloom, one of the authors of the article and a Professor of Economics at Stanford, gamely takes on all comments with aplomb; it’s the very model of restrained and clarifying discourse in the face of axe-grinding trolls and agenda-blinded numskulls.

Check it out!