I’ve been thinking and writing quite a lot this week about Hamburger Management: the type of management approach that is based on always doing whatever is quickest, simplest and (above all) cheapest. Hamburger Managers provide the kind of leadership that is best described as: “Never mind the quality, look how fast it goes and how cheap it is.” Sadly, this approach is being forced on a great many otherwise perfectly reasonable and responsible people by the continual demands of those at the top to meet inflated expectations of short-term profit.

In Take Any Two From Four . . ., I explained that work can be quick, cheap, innovative or good—but you can only have two of those qualities at any one time. Good, innovative work isn’t going to be cheap or quick, because it takes time and resources to break away from the dead hand of conformity. Quick, cheap ways of doing business (the hallmark of Hamburger Management) more or less ensure that the work done won’t be good (too expensive) or innovative (too slow and risky). That’s how good businesses go downhill, by focusing on short-term profits instead of lasting value.

One of the best antidotes to Hamburger Management is kindness in leadership and business dealings. That was the basis of Is the Worm Turning? Macho, grab-and-go management styles, like Hamburger Management, are universally callous towards anyone who gets in the way of creating maximum profit in minimum time. In a civilized society, that really ought to be unacceptable. I’ve long held the belief that the best way to “inspire” bosses to act in civilized ways would be to make any other behavior socially unacceptable. Nothing would change hearts and minds quicker that the prospect of being ostracized at the golf club; or no longer being invited to dinner by the “right kind of people” in the locality. After all, egotism seems to be an intrinsic part of Hamburger Management. These macho management styles are sold to people on the basis that getting things done, even when it all seems impossible given the limited time and resources, will make you look good. And egotism is all about me, isn’t it? My career, my targets, my job security.

I was depressed by a newspaper report titled: Boardrooms spending more time and energy on ethics compliance because it suggests that even business ethics are being turned in to yet more rules and regulations. As I noted in A Regulatory Tipping Point?:

Nothing slows business down more than a mass of needless rules, but it’s not the kind of slowing down we advocate at Slow Leadership. Instead of cluttering up the workplace with such garbage, why not try trusting subordinates to do their jobs, then give them the space, time, and support to make it happen? If more corporations tried that approach, I believe they would discover they have plenty of time to get everything done, without all the stress and long hours. All they is to free themselves from pointless reporting, useless meetings, the collection of meaningless statistics, the preparing of endless PowerPoint presentations with justifications for any and every action, and all the other common means of covering those delicate executive butts.

Good business is not about being quick, simple, or cheap. It’s about being better at what you do than anyone else. And that includes service, quality, and innovation too. That’s why Hamburger Management is ultimately self-defeating. Mindless imitation is one of the surest paths to business failure, and Hamburger Managers imitate because they have to: it’s simplest, cheapest, and quickest. It also offers some protection if things go wrong. If you don’t believe me, read Why “Industry Standard” is a Dumb (Hamburger Management) Idea.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life.

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