BOOK REVIEW / Diary of a professor at work: In Search of Management, Tony J Watson; Routledge, pounds 40hb, pounds 12.99pb

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The Independent Online
THE TITLE is an apt one. In Search of Management: Culture, Chaos and Control in Managerial Work refers to a personal search while working with managers in a British telecommunications company.

The author was seconded from his post as Professor of Organisational and Managerial Behaviour at Nottingham Business School. His task, helping management development, enabled him to talk to many managers. He interviewed 60, asking such questions as: 'What does it mean to you to be a manager?' and 'What do you see as the essential difference between managerial and non-managerial work?'

His choice of title also echoed In Search of Excellence. That book popularised the idea that culture is an important part of management. Watson echoes this, using 'culture' first in the sub-title. The second word, 'chaos', represents a view of the world as always potentially chaotic because one can never be sure of the outcome of any action. This makes the manager's job difficult. The third word, 'control', refers to managers' wish to be in control.

Management is simple in principle, difficult in practice because managers have to feel their way. It is about people and its purpose is to help organisations survive; it is practical and a process of strategic exchange within a particular culture. All these statements express Watson's view of management. What is not clear is how far they emerged from his search and how much the managers are used to illustrate previous views. Was it search, confirmation or mission?

Watson is also interested in how managers express themselves through their work. He sees the individual as always 'emergent', so managers are 'in search of themselves' in their work. He illustrates this by quotes from people who described what it meant to them to be a manager.

He is alert to human frailty and how it affects organisations. He sees it in the gap between intended large-scale changes in the company and what happens.

After so many repetitive management books, it is a relief to read one that is thoughtful and individual. It is like a discursive diary where the writer describes what happened and how he felt about it.

The author calls it: 'My attempt to weave the ideas and findings of other writers along with my own research, experiences, thoughts and observation into the tapestry recording my journey in search of management'. This description should give readers an idea of whether they would like the book.

Long quotes from interviews are used to illustrate the aspect of management that is being discussed. Often this is effective, but sometimes it becomes too self-indulgently academic.

Those who appreciate the book will do so for its individual character, for the thoughtful exploration of the nature of management and of managers' attitudes. Less impressed will be those impatient with an academic approach and who already have firm views.

In Search of Management is a distinctive and worthwhile contribution to writings about managerial behaviour. But Watson seems unaware of the cultural limitations of his views about the nature of management and about how organisations work. This is managerial imperialism because it generalises from practice in the US and Britain to 'management' and 'organisations' elsewhere.