Friday, May 11, 2020
What would a Hamburger Manager do?
You’ve probably all seen the bumper stickers that exhort you to ask yourself “What would Jesus do?” or “What would The Buddha do?” Their purpose is to urge you to pause before some important ethical or personal decision, using the question to make yourself consider the issue in greater depth—usually with Jesus’ or The Buddha’s teachings in mind. This is my own version of this idea, aimed at helping you to be a better Slow Leader.
Instead of using the teachings of a famous religious figure as a guide to how you ought to react in some difficult situation, I’m going to suggest the opposite: that you take a few seconds of time out to think about what the typical macho, “grab-and-go,” Hamburger Manager would do—then avoid that option whenever you can.
There are two reasons for suggesting this. One: Hamburger Management responses have become the unthinking norm in many organizations, so it will force you to think creatively about a different approach. Two: most of our management problems today are caused by sticking with this out-dated and discredited way of managing, so choosing something else is virtually guaranteed to be better.
Here’s how it might work:
- Profits are falling and sales are looking shaky. What would a Hamburger Manager do? He or she would cut costs violently (to restore profits in the short term), lay off people (to cut costs still more), and use threats and oppressive supervision to drive those who remain to find quick-fixes to push up sales. The result would be a short-term lift, followed by more long-term decline.
By avoiding this approach, sensible managers might take the time to explore why profits and sales are in decline, perhaps uncovering quality problems, poor customer service, technology issues, or loss of competitiveness through obsolescent products. Any solution would be permanent and long-term, without the blow to morale.
- Results are extremely good. Performance is high. There is ample cash available for discovering new ways to grow and sustain the organization. What would a Hamburger Manager do? Hand out huge amounts of money in bonuses and share options to top executives, start on a spree of ill-considered acquisitions, begin claiming to be a management genius and solicit sycophantic articles in major magazines, and generally spend his or her time in actions aimed at self-aggrandizement. Then announce impossible targets (based purely on ego and showing off) and try to force the organization to meet them. Generaly drive the organization's results up like a rocket (and soon down like the stick).
By avoiding this, executives might spend the cash wisely, keeping their heads and realizing that good times rarely last, accept that luck was probably a major reason for success, and focus instead on trying to strengthen the organization for long-term, sustainable growth (and against the tough times that will surely follow some day).
- The media (or some consulting firm) announce that the organization spends far more on staff costs than some supposed “benchmarks.” What would a Hamburger Manager do? Cut staffing, find ways to lower benefits and payments to staff, get back as quickly as possible to the benchmark level—so good people leave, it’s harder to attract talent for the future, and there is a general decline in innovation, creativity, and the availability of good staff.
The alternative? Probably to ignore the announcement and do nothing at all, so long as those extra costs are there because the staff are of a higher quality than in most organizations, and doing a great job. Most of these supposed benchmarks have no real validity anyway. Many (perhaps most) are invented by consultants as a way to solicit business.
- A new CEO (division head, head of department) is appointed, perhaps to try to revive the organization after a bad patch. What would a Hamburger Manager do? Fire, or otherwise remove, as many as possible of the existing management team and replace them with his or her own people (a.k.a. cronies). Sweep away as much as possible of the previous way of doing things. Organize a series of high-profile meetings, complete with lengthy Powerpoint presentations, to announce vague and grandiose new strategies. Review the performance of the staff and demonstrate “toughness” by letting go everyone rated as “below average.” The result would be a period of total chaos and confusion, during which results would probably fall still further. If so, the new person might be fired, and the process would repeat.
An alternative would be to spend time listening to current staff, make as few changes as possible during this learning period, show that good people had nothing to fear from the new regime, and seek out and act on creative ideas from all sides for turning things around. Which would make you stay and do your very best?
Lately I've been reading about an organization managed as a democracy, not a hierarchy.
I've been though "The Seven Day Weekend" by Ricardo Semler. It sounds good, but he is the CEO, so he is making all the cash. For him it is good.
I also read "The Democratic Corporation" by Ackoff which I found through a post on this blog about MBA education. The book is very academic, but has ideas on how to actually accomplish what Ricardo is talking about.
I also see blogs and articles about how Google is organized. Engineers can move from project to project. They decide the technical direction, not a partially informed manager. There have been a few other articles on democratically organized businesses.
This sounds like a solution to hamburger management. How about exploring these ideas? I am looking for a conversation that helps the cloud of ideas form into something real.
Where will you be holding it, so people know where to contribute?
I love your idea (What would hamburger manager do?). It's actionable. straightforward and will help me see a better way.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
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