How Britain's managers have been cast as incompetents on the psychologi st's couch

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The Independent Online
A NEW BOOK will gladden the heart of every downtrodden employee, from "alienated workers" to "workplace deviants". The Psychology Of Managerial Incompetence, a sceptic's A to Z guide of vacuous management buzz-words and business school fads, seeks to explain just why so many managers mess things up.

The author, Adrian Furnham, Professor of Psychology at the University of London, starts with a quick tour of well-known jokes about management techniques. There is seagull management, where a manager flies in to an organisation, dumps on the employees, and then flies out. And, of course, there is mushroom management, where the employees are kept in the dark and occasionally have fertiliser dumped on them.

The author seeks to find the psychological reasons behind managerial incompetence, and lists a number of strategies used by bad managers to fend off instructions to change

One is the "temper tantrum method" where the manager "calls the person requesting the change names, stamps his or her foot, appears outraged and insulted, even apoplectic".

This contrasts with the "hush-hush method" where the manager takes the advocate of change aside and explains, in hushed tones, that he'd love to help but clearly the other chap doesn't understand the real wishes of the managing director, the real meaning of the latest figures, or the contents of the secret corporate plan.

Professor Furnham does not just want to lay bare the emotional inadequacies of British management. He also wants to help managers see how they can improve their performance.

But the professor has little time for appraisal techniques, suggesting that "all appraisal systems interfere with team work, foster mediocrity, concentrate on short-term outcomes and focus on the product not the process".

He also charts the decline of the Big Desk as a symbol of corporate power. Apparently, tables are now in, while the smaller the laptop computer that sits on them, the greater the prestige.

The rise of e-mail in the corporate world comes in for analysis too. The book suggests that composing e-mails can embroil people in hours of non-productive activity. Another problem lies in their incomprehensible English.

"The irony is that the non-literary, monoglotic techies ... might feel more comfortable communicating with the world electronically but there is little evidence that the quality of the communication increases."

Not surprisingly , business gurus get a mauling. The author writes: "It has been said that journalists first used the term guru to describe management theorists because they could not spell the world charlatan." Ouch.

Gurus are "simple organisms designed specifically to convert doublespeak into air miles," he says. "Many suspect the business gurus are greedy dogmatists who peddle inane, simple solutions to difficult and complex questions."

Perhaps as a pre-emptive strike against any possible attacks on his book, Professor Furnham addresses reviews of management books. "Regular reviewers are often gratuitously nasty. They have found it pays."

Well Professor, I'm happy to buck the trend and say this book is a gas. Just don't leave it on your desk for the boss to see it.

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