Thursday, 2 July 2015

Pandemonium and Paranoia

Is it because university managers worry about management that their "management" is sometimes dreadful and cruel? Worrying about the wrong things causes disastrous problems. When categories of understanding are so confused, it puts managers in double-binds. They believe they are meant to show strength of character, command of the issues, authority, vision, etc (and that they can't show any weakness or uncertainty). They end up showing fear, indecisiveness, deceitfulness, paranoia, and nastiness. It happens with such regularity that we would have to ask, "they can't ALL be psychopaths, can they?" (although I'm sure one or two probably are!). Is there something inherently wrong in the way they think to make them this unfortunate? Critical rational judgement, it seems, takes a back seat to pseudo-rational accounting, status acquisition, personal enmity and cowardice. Martin Parker makes the case that we should be 'against management', but 'for organisation'. Unlike management, which places the focus on "those who manage", organisation is about everyone. It is the "whole show" which is, in the end, viable. The study of 'management' gives managers the inflated expectation that they are in some way more important than anyone else (of course, their outrageously inflated salaries do nothing to encourage them to think otherwise!). That's where the double-bind kicks in: Management is not viable on its own.

When institutions get into real trouble, it's often because managers lose touch with their institutions. 'Losing touch' however is too soft a term: this isn't just forgetfulness. It's wilful disdain. Managers have 'visions', and their visions often do not include the real people who work for institutions, but rather imaginary people who they haven't recruited yet. They can't hide disdain and soon embark on a project to replace the 'real people' who struggle to work in an increasingly alienating environment, with these new 'imaginary people'. They then find, having done this, that the "imaginary people" have pretty much the same kind of problems as the people they replaced. Indeed, now it is worse, because the environment has been poisoned with fear.

Moreover, cruel managers leave behind them a trail of angry people, each of whom will feel bitter at their treatment. Now it's time for managerial paranoia! Security guards are called in to protect senior managers; witch-hunts are conducted to wipe out any dissent in the organisation; social media networks are scoured for any unflattering references to the management; websites are closed down. Remember, this is a University - but this is now real organisational pandemonium. Activists who long campaigned against the managerial regime, even after they have been disposed of, are still seen as a threat. Now the management needs 'information' about what the activists are up to. Could they go to the press? Could they start an online campaign? It's not long before the paranoia has managers reaching for private detectives! In the name of "upholding the reputation of the university"...

But really, this is a management trying to making itself viable in defiance of the thing it is meant to be part of. It is management being ignorant of organisation. The next step in inevitable decline comes when support networks involving the 'great and the good' start to be less supportive. The angry dispossessed people will start asking questions: who signed what? How much did you spend? How many business-class flights? How many hotels? And inevitably attention will turn to the 'great and the good', who are on the whole much happier behind-the-scenes than they are in the front line. They start to wilt and resign and the pressure brings-on unpleasant symptoms that one wouldn't wish on anybody. Some of them will want to clear their consciences as they bow-out.

So what if management didn't think about management? What if the priority was organisation? Unlike management, organisation is a science. The great irony in University management today is that whilst it sometimes criticises academics for being 'amateur teachers', it displays far greater amateurism in its knowledge and skill in the science of organisation. We should have a campaign to make managers better practitioners of organisation!

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