Friday, May 25, 2020

Keeping Hamburger Management alive

Hamburger Management is a cycle kept alive by a false belief that it is the right way to get ahead. Only when enough people reject it will the downward spiral into ever more demanding and unpleasant working conditions be broken.

What is the single, most powerful force that keeps Hamburger Management alive and well in our workplaces today?

No, it’s not the greed of shareholders, nor the demands of Wall Street. It’s not executive egotism either, nor even the conservative outlook of business schools, constantly repeating old, outworn ideas that should have been given a decent burial decades ago.

It’s imitation.

That’s right, imitation. It’s subordinates copying whatever they see their bosses doing, in the belief that this will get them promoted in their turn.

Imagine all those underlings watching and learning the same mistakes and bad habits that their managers already have, simply because of their belief that those are the actions required to do the job, achieve the results, and get themselves promoted. That’s what keeps the cycle of bad management going: constant, thoughtless copying of bad habits and negative styles of leadership.

Daily “learning”

Most people “learn” far more by imitating those people who seem to have succeeded in the past than they ever do by attending courses or reading books or articles. Sadly, while they are often very choosy about the courses they take or the books they read, they are not always so discriminating when it comes to the habits that they allow themselves to pick up.

When I was a teenager, many years ago now, a teacher at my (single sex) school gave this piece of advice to those about to leave and go to university: “When you meet a pretty girl and think about marrying her, take a careful look at her mother. That’s what she will be like in 20 years.” (I guess that it should apply to boys and their fathers too, but this was in the days long before any of the pupils could have “come out” and still been accepted by their peers or by society.)

Now I have no idea whether this piece of homespun wisdom has any validity. And before people deluge me with instances where it isn’t true at all, I need to point out that the reason why I quoted it is this: what you imitate today, you will become tomorrow.

If your boss is a jerk and you imitate what he or she does, you’ll become a jerk too. It’s not just the desirable parts that will rub off on you—the promotion, the status, the power—it’s everything else as well: the stress, the bad temper, the tendency to steal subordinates’ ideas, the constant nagging. Before you thoughtlessly imitate what you see the boss do, take a good, hard look at the whole package. That’s what you will be like if you continue to copy the boss’s actions.

Be very careful what you choose to copy

Some bosses deserve to be imitated. They’re helpful, wise, kind, capable, and inteligent. Many are far less attractive. They’ve picked up on Hamburger Management behaviors from imitating their bosses. If you imitate them in your turn, the downward spiral into stressful, uncivilized workplace conditions will continue. Only by refusing to imitate behaviors that you can see are negative and unpleasant—even if they are said to lead to promotion—can you play your part in changing a small part of your world for the better.

So . . . take a long, hard look at the bosses around you. See the good and the bad, the benefits and the drawbacks of their behavior. Then choose what to imitate and what to leave alone. It’s the only way to stop the cycle of Hamburger Management once and for all.

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Herman Najoli said...

This is actually a saying from my community in Kenya - the Maragoli: "When you meet a pretty girl and think about marrying her, take a careful look at her mother. That’s what she will be like in 20 years"! Isn't it amazing how the principles of life cut across diverse worlds, oceans and peoples!

Here's what I will say about this topic: The best way to be somebody is to be yourself. You don't have to imitate someone. Imitation is the lowest level of becoming! The best way to be original is to avoid being a cheap copy. This is the key to authenticity. People delight in knowing that they are associating with a real you instead of a cheap copy of someone else. Being yourself builds credibility and engenders respect from those who rub shoulders with you. When people experience the real you, they are left with an experience unlike any they have ever had before. Go on… be yourself!

Ove the past two weeks I have been exploring this very topic at my other blog - If you are interested, please look at the top three posts for May 16th, 21st and 25th. We are born to be originals!

9:26 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for a great comment, Herman, and some powerful links.

You are absolutely right about being yourself, not a cheap imitation of anyone else.

Keep reading, my friend.

9:37 AM  
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11:18 PM  

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