A leader forced to utilize “hamburger management” is like a cordon bleu chef told to work as a short-order cook and produce nothing but hamburgers with french fries every day. Any organization that uses this approach is like a diner who eats nothing else. The first becomes bored, frustrated and disillusioned; the second becomes sick rather quickly.

Hamburger management is any form of leadership or management technique that utilizes only a limited range of pre-set recipes to cope with just about every situation that arises. The smaller the range of recipes, the worse it is. In time, nothing remains but repeating the same tired, worn-out responses day after day.

It doesn’t begin like that. Just as there is nothing wrong with a good hamburger on occasion, some at least of these recipes probably work some of the time. The problem comes when they’re overused. Because they’re quick to prepare and use and generally quite inexpensive to produce, like junk food, they promise to save time as well as cost. They do save time, but the time they save isn’t put to good use: it’s utilized to increase the pace and number of operations—and typically to cut staffing too—until the point is reached where there is no option left but to rely on hamburger management all the time. There simply isn’t time for any other kind.

Time is the life blood of decision making and action. With insufficient time available, you have no choice but to make snap decisions and rush into action with whatever understanding of the situation you have. There’s no time to train people or develop a strategic approach either. You either do something right away, or risk missing the boat altogether. In these circumstances, the only actions possible are quick, simple and well-understood: essentially to repeat past actions and simplify everything possible. The result—hamburger management.

Hamburger management destroys initiative, crushes creativity and makes a mockery of exhortations to be innovative. And, as I said at the start of this piece, it also makes organizations accustomed to a constant diet of such fare quite sick, just as you would be if you ate nothing but junk food for every meal. If your business is falling behind, as too many of them are, you now know what is most likely to blame.

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