Reflecting on a Period of Change in a Governmental Development Agency: Understanding Management as the Patterning of Interaction and Politics
Management was once described as the art of getting things done through the efforts of oneself and other people (Follett, 1941) and is functionalised through acts of planning, organising, leading and controlling tasks and people for pre-defined objectives. These four cardinal pillars of management are translated into various models, tools and techniques of best practice of how to manage. While acknowledging that the substance of the current management models, tools and techniques have for years broadly contributed to how organisations are run, my research sheds more light on the shortcomings underlying some of the assumptions and ways of thinking behind these models and tools. My research findings based on my experience in working for the Department for International Development suggests that management practice and organisational change occur in the context of human power relationships in which people constrain and enable each other on the basis of human attributes such as identities, attitudes, values, perceptions, emotions, fears, expectations, motives and interests. I argue that these human attributes, human power relations and the totality of human emotions arise in the social, and understanding the ways in which these attributes shape local interaction and daily human relating is critical in making sense of the reality of organisational change and management. I suggest that management practice occurs in the context of everyday politics of human relating. It is that type of politics that takes place within families, groups of people, organisations, communities, and indeed throughout all units of society around the distribution of power, wealth, resources, thoughts and ideas. This way of thinking has enormous implications for the way we conceptualise management theory and practice. I am suggesting that managers do not solely determine, nor do employees freely choose their identities, attitudes, values, perceptions, emotions, fears, expectations and motives. These human dimensions arise from social relationships and personal experiences. As such, it is simply not for a manager to decide or force other employees on which of these human attributes to influence their behaviour. I am arguing that the social nature of management practice and role of human agents is inherently complex and cannot, in the scientific sense, be adequately reduced to discrete, systematic, complete and predictive models, tools and techniques without losing some meaning of what we do in management.