9 Reasons Why Management Theories are Killing Your Business

By Bhavesh Naik | Build Your Own Business Philosophy

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Feb 08
9 Reasons Why Management Theories are Killing Your Business

Most business owners and leaders want their businesses to thrive for a long time in the marketplace. Businesses are made of people, so it's natural to want to have a structure and a process for managing their work. Management theories were created for that specific reason. 


But if we are not careful, these same management theories that were created to help businesses thrive could be suffocating them. Here, I present 9 ways in which management theories could be detrimental to your business,

What is death? In spite of a plethora of books about “zombies” and movies featuring “the living-dead,” we know little about death. But we do know a lot about life. Perhaps the best way to define death is as “absence of Life.” Another way to put it: Death is when we stop living.

Death could be seen as the end of our physical life. But there is also something called dying before the death. This is when we are living as if we are dead. What causes this death before the death? For many of us, our work constitutes a major part of our lives. That’s why, one of the causes of our death is the meaningless, soul-sucking, boring, drudgery of work that some of us haul ourselves to every single day.

A business is made of people. When its people are dying before their actual death, the business organization is also on its way to its grave. One of the reasons why this death occurs is because of the so-called management theories. Here, I present to you 9 reasons why management theories could be killing your business.

1. Management theories view business as machine and its people as machine-parts.

Most of the management theories in circulation today have their roots in the Scientific Management Theories developed in the 1880’s (that was 130 years ago!) by a fellow named Frederick Taylor. This was the time of Industrial Revolution and people were fascinated, even infatuated, by machines. Taylor, like most managers of the day, viewed people as machine-parts and the business as a giant machine. He and many of his contemporaries were obsessed with how efficiently a task could be performed. For example, Frank Gilbreth, a 1920’s scientific consultant, did a series of studies with his wife, Lilian, to find out how long it took for them to bathe their 12 (that’s a dozen!) young children. As they bathed them using various processes, they kept track of the time it took with a stop-watch. By trial and error, they figured out the most efficient way to bathe their children!

While this kind of obsession with time-based efficiency had its place in history, it does not apply very well to today’s knowledge-intensive work.

From the perspective of the people we manage, there is nothing more soul-sucking than to be looked at as machine-parts - as “things.” Each of us knows deep down inside that we have much more to offer than the simple efficiency of a machine. Nobody wants to be a part of a giant machine that churns out productivity. We want to be part of something that’s soul-stirring, something that brings out the best in us, something that compels us to reach down deep and find our deepest, most meaningful essence and share it with the world.

It's okay to question management theories!

This mentality - of seeing people as things to squeeze out the maximum productivity from - is buried deep inside the psyche of even modern managers. One of the most cliche’d sayings of the business world - “People are our most important asset!” - has its roots in this mentality. An asset is a thing from which you profit, not a living, breathing person to inspire and appreciate and stir at her deepest levels so that she is compelled to show up to work as her best self.

Agree or Disagree?: "Management theories view business as machine and its people as machine-parts." #BuildYourOwn #ManagementTheory #ManagementPhilosophy

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2. Management theories view people as "things."

We have put man on the moon and brought him back safely. We have made tremendous advances in science and technology, in medicine and space exploration, in rocket science and brain surgery, in the way we connect people and in the way we get our work done. But when it comes to managing our people, we are not that far from the way that the Egyptians built their pyramids or the Romans built their monuments, which is by “owning” those we manage and using fear to get them to do what we want them to do.

Most modern management theories don’t challenge - or even question - these two basic assumptions: 1) We own those we manage, (The modern-day equivalent of ownership is salary and preset work-hours.) and 2) We use fear to get them to do what we want them to do.

Salary and work-hours are important, of course, and we can’t get rid of them just yet. But we don’t have to use them as a leverage to get our employees to perform well. One of the challenges I present to the business owners I coach is to manage a group of people that’s fully made of volunteer workers. Because they don’t get paid to do the work, you can’t use fear of getting fired as a motivator. In such a situation, the manager is forced to use the only tool she has available: inspiration and positive reinforcement.

Most business owners report that it’s extremely difficult to manage people this way. To me, this implies that we really are not trained to manage people through positive means. This is not the fault of the managers. If there’s someone to blame, it’s the conditioning of humanity in the last few thousand years of our history, perhaps made more concrete during the Industrial Revolution through Scientific Management Theories.

3. Management philosophies perceive people as fragmented entities.

Because we have viewed people as “things,” we have always tried to do away with those aspects of us that make us human. Emotions. Awareness. Organic energy. Lifeforce. Inherent gifts and talents. Our predispositions, intelligence, creativity, and initiative.

Recently, the term Emotional Intelligence has become quite popular. While a step in the right direction, it’s still rooted in our tendency to view people as things. Emotional Intelligence tries to intellectualize emotions with the assumption that our emotions should be controlled by our intellect, making us a robot or an automaton, like the character Data in the cult-fiction TV series Star Trek, the Next Generation, who is an “android” aspiring to be human. Emotions are not something to intellectualize; emotions are something to feel. We have - we feel - emotions whether we like it or not. And they are powerful. When we tamp down our emotions by intellectualizing them, we rob ourselves of one of the most powerful forces of nature - and of us.

Traditionally, just as well as today, we have viewed - we have wanted to view - people primarily as made of two faculties: 1) Intellect and 2) Actions. We have always wanted to keep things this way as it makes a human-being less complicated to manage: predictable and controllable, like a computer.

But the reality is quite different. People can’t be tied up in conceptual confinements enforced by management theories. They are much more complex than the two-dimensional things that we have wanted them to be. I like to view people as more integrated entities, keeping in mind that even this view of mine is a conceptual confinement of the human being. However, I think that this view is more expansive and encompasses the ignored faculties of us as human beings.

4. Management theories confine and trap the true potential of your business.

Because we see human-beings as fragmented things and design our organizations based on management theories that have such a view, it’s impossible to have a workforce that operates at its full capacity or near-full capacity.

We all have a need to express ourselves to our fullest capacity. Within the confines of management theories, many of our human dimensions remain unused and unexplored in our work, causing us to seek outlays in others pursuits such as volunteer work and hobbies.

Because we have viewed people as “things,” we have always tried to do away with those aspects of us that make us human. Emotions. Awareness. Organic energy. Lifeforce. Inherent gifts and talents. Our predispositions, intelligence, creativity, and initiative. #BuildYourOwn #ManagementTheory #ManagementPhilosophy 

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This has two negative side-effects. In a strictly business sense, the organization misses out on most of the contribution its employees are capable of making, tapping only a small part of it. From the personal view of an employee, she remains unfulfilled and frustrated because most of her capacity to contribute remains unexplored and untapped.

5. Management theories rob you of your people’s creativity and ingenuity.

Every business faces unique challenges and obstacles that they may not have faced before. Such problems require creativity and ingenuity from its people. Our people’s creativity and ingenuity don’t come from their intellect or their behaviors, especially if they are disconnected from their other faculties. Our people’s creativity and ingenuity come from the alignment of the 7 faculties we talked about before. When these faculties are active and aligned, they create magic. When they are not, they create a heavy, dead feeling apparent in so many organizations causing stagnation, apathy, and boredom among employees.

6. Management theories make your business less flexible and more rigid.

Today, we live in the world of management “systems.” Seems like everyone and his brother has some sort of a “system” to sell to businesses, whether it’s sales, leadership, management or many of their variants such as marketing and personal development. As managers, we love systems as with systems, we can control people just like we can control machines and robots. But when we manage with systems, we also miss out something far more important: the uninhibited, deep-to-the-soul engagement from our people. Perhaps a better mindset to develop is that of developing “ecosystems” in our organizations. A system is a dead thing made of machine parts; an ecosystem is a collection of living, breathing entities that work together in a set of interconnected relationships.

7. Management philosophies make your people skeptical of the management and question its leaders’ integrity, authenticity, and originality.

Why are the Dilbert cartoons so popular? Because they star a manager who manages by the fad of the day, without truly understanding, integrating and owning what that fad means to him personally and to his organization. The fact is, Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss is not that far from reality in the corporate world. We have all seen such managers, maybe even worked for such a manager. Some of us may have even been such a manager in our own lives.

We see such managers coming from a mile away. We know they are not authentic or original. They are simply regurgitating what they read about in the latest leadership book or heard in the last management seminar they attended.

I do think that management theories have value. But I think the right way to benefit from management theories is to let it inspire us to develop our own way of managing, perhaps even our own management theory. (Although I recommend that you don’t get too hung up on it yourself and feel free to change it and update it often.)

8. Management theories make a religion out of your business.

In its most basic form, a religion is a set of ideas formulated by someone who has lived them and experienced them. At the heart of every religion is dogma: a set of ideas that were true for the person who lived them, but may or may not be true for those who try to follow them.

When we take management theories literally and make them a dogma in our organizations, our business becomes a follower of the religion proposed by the management theory. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in some circumstances, it could be a very positive thing. Sharing a set of values and principles often give us a sense of collective identity that allows us to function better as a team.

But when our following of a particular management theory becomes so deeply ingrained in our corporate culture that we lose our capacity of discrimination and independent thought, it confines our business into a set of arbitrary boundaries that work against the business rather than for it.

9. Management theories make people afraid to try out new things, to draw outside the lines, to break new grounds, to start a revolution.

Once a management theory is successfully installed in the psyche of our people, they become their psychological boundaries. If a proper attitude to risk-taking is not cultivated within the corporate culture, these boundaries, while making the organization more efficient, can be debilitating to the organization when it comes to breaking new grounds, reaching for ambitious goals and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

In Conclusion: 

There are 9 ways management theories or management philosophies could be killing your business. They are:

  1. Management theories view business as machine and its people as machine-parts.
  2. Management theories view people as "things."
  3. Management philosophies perceive people as fragmented entities.
  4. Management theories confine and trap the true potential of your business.
  5. Management theories rob you of your people’s creativity and ingenuity.
  6. Management theories make your business less flexible and more rigid.
  7. Management philosophies make your people skeptical of the management and question its leaders’ integrity, authenticity, and originality.
  8. Management theories make a religion out of your business.
  9. Management theories make people afraid to try out new things, to draw outside the lines, to break new grounds, to start a revolution.
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About the Author

Bhavesh​’s passion is to study and experiment with cutting-edge ideas and models in human effectiveness and their effects on business organizations, institutions and the whole world.