Friday, 27 December 2019

The difference between managing and doing

In Aotearoa New Zealand we have a long tradition of self-sufficiency. We think that we can turn our hand to anything, learn anything, nut out anything if we just put our minds to it... and that if we can't do things one way, then we can come up with a work-around to meet the same outcome. 

This is a very pioneering point of view, largely developed from Aoteraoa being so isolated in the bottom of the South Pacific. The thousands of kilometres of ocean, the lack of minerals, the lack of established technologies, and attitude of 'make do and mend' drove us to develop our own low-tech solutions. Our solutions tend to be those that will work "for now", and we will do something permanent later. Often, the 'later' never happens: in 50 years we still using the "for now" solution. These values of self-reliance and "she'll be right" have become embedded in the New Zealand psyche.

Self-reliance could be what has encouraged many New Zealanders to work for themselves. "She'll be right" may be a contributing factor to New Zealanders' impatience with planning, and future proofing and investing in good technology. I think we Kiwis have a horror of over-engineering solutions.

And it is this combination mindset of self-reliance and "she'll be right" which I suspect doesn't work well when it comes to managing our businesses. We think we can do it ourselves. Of course we can! Right? We came up with the business idea: of course we can manage a business! It can't be that complicated, right? How hard can it be? 

Our unique skills lead us to over-simplify and create our own bottlenecks. We under-invest, we under-plan, and we under-monitor. We create business drama which is entirely our own fault, but it is not just process and plant that we over-simplify. 

We think that managing people is simply giving everyone "a fair go", not realising the depth of skill and understanding to be developed in management and leadership. We think that theory is boring, instead of theory being a rule of thumb to aid us in our work. We think the components of theory are unnecessary, instead of thinking that theory components are like recipe ingredients which, once we know them, can be swapped to create customised outcomes. We think we can do things by the seat of our pants as we ride the wave of emergency; instead of taking a planned approach, with fewer crises, less turnover, and less burnout.

As a nation, I think we lack a professional - or professionalising - attitude. We don't really respect the learning required to do any piece of work properly, to future-proof it, to really think through functioning, planning, monitoring, and control. We want to get on with the doing.

Management is considered a profession in many countries, but not in New Zealand. Kiwis think managers are people who prevent them from doing their jobs. Worse, we promote good technicians into management positions, and rarely train them how to manage. I went looking for research on this topic, and was unable to find anything. Either I don't know the appropriate search terms, or it is a space which need some research. 

Something to think about.


Silver Fern used in the image by Bamse, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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