When you write an article on a topic, it’s traditional to start with the problem, explain the causes next, then move into offering a solution. On the Slow Leadership site this week, I took things more or less in the opposite order, starting on Monday with part of the solution, giving my views on the reasons for the problem mid-week, and finally explaining the problem itself on Friday. This wasn’t intentional. Each article was conceived as a separate piece. It was only when I reviewed them for this posting that I noticed the reversed order.

So, let’s start with Friday’s post and the problem itself. The idea for Slow Leadership came from the slow food movement: a world-wide grouping of people seeking to re-establish quality in our food against the pressures of all that fast food has come to stand for—cheap ingredients, masses of chemical additives, limited menus, and even more limited taste and nutritional value. There are close comparisons to be made with many of today’s conventional management styles: the same emphasis on whatever is quickest, cheapest, simplest, and most likely to turn a quick profit, regardless of whether it is any good for human beings in the longer term. That was the subject of Hamburger Management Revealed: a review of three recent news stories giving evidence of the practical effects of Hamburger Management in action.

It is a basic belief of Slow Leadership that most people truly want to do good work. Sure, there are some lazy bums, but they are far from being that common. Good work is satisfying, interesting, and makes you feel good when you have finished it. That’s why being forced into cutting corners and skimping on quality demeans everyone involved. In Authoritarians Need Conformists, I explored the idea that organizations build up “scar tissue” from botched attempts to deal with mistakes and problems. In time, there are so many rules and procedures around from all these past hurts that the organization becomes stiff and rigid. So sweep all the unnecessary rules away! Easier said than done, because there are two powerful—and linked—groups of people in nearly all corporations who work hard to retain them: conformists and authoritarians. Conformists feel safe being told what to do. Authoritarians feel big when they can do the telling.

Is your organization suffering from hardening of its arteries? Is the life blood of open communication and personal freedom to do one’s job unmolested becoming clotted and clogged as it tries to move through the veins of the business? Don’t just blame the authoritarians in positions of power. Blame those below them who accept the constant imposition of petty rules, and substitute compliance for true performance.

And so back to Monday and the solution to these issues—or part of it.

We all need doubt. It’s the driving force behind change, creativity, and independence of thought of every kind. Authoritarians and conformists—no surprises here—much prefer faith in fixed dogmas, including those of management: all the “truths” taught in MBA programs and hallowed by years of mindless repetition. In In Praise of Doubt . . . and Middle Managers, I offered two ideas. Firstly that doubt, in all its forms, should be fostered and nurtured wherever it can be found. And, secondly, that the worst place to look for creativity and new ideas is at the top of the organization. Those who have made it that far typically have absolutely no doubt about the value of preserving current system. After all, it brought them to the top, didn’t it? It must be good. The best place to look for creativity is, in fact, in the usually rather despised and neglected ranks of middle managers. These good people are not yet heavily invested in any system. They are much closer to the real needs of the organization. They haven’t given up their doubts about what is done today (nor about the supposed infallible wisdom of their boss’s way of doing things). Best of all, they have enough experience to see what needs to be done and direct their creativity to the right spots.

There you have it. We are suffering from an epidemic of Hamburger Management: styles of leadership that focus on what is cheap, quick, and generates most short-term profit. The result is shoddy business, shoddy goods and services, and shoddy conditions for those who must work in these businesses. Because of the emphasis on doing things quickly, and never sparing the time to think things through properly, such organizations suffer from hardening of their arteries and a build up of ill-thought-out, hastily-imposed rules dreamt up in a hurry when things go wrong. Their management ranks become dominated by authoritarians and conformists, each group needing the other to operate. And a good part of the solution is to encourage doubt and cherish creative middle managers, who are not yet tainted with obedience to the Hamburger Management regime. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

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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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