Hamburger Management is a shoddy, debased version of real leadership that focuses on just three things: whatever demands least, can be used fastest, and costs least. It thrives wherever organizations seek to meet unrealistic targets with insufficient resources to maximize short-term profits. Indeed, Hamburger Management is short-term by nature, and will habitually sacrifice long-term advantage and value for the immediate gratification of bosses and investors.

To force people to work long hours at high pressure, for little if any additional reward, Hamburger Managers frequently resort to bullying of one kind or another. A survey in Great Britain found that 60% of respondents said that bullying is increasingly common across the UK; and about a third believe that their organization is ineffective at deterring such aggressive behavior. My guess is that most Hamburger Managers don’t even realize that they are acting like bullies. They have been brainwashed by describing their actions as “hard-charging,” “go-getting,” and “tough-minded”—all seen as pluses in the Hamburger Management universe. They were bullied themselves by their own bosses, so they see such behavior as normal.

Competition is one of the most frequently used approaches to aid in the process of driving staff harder and harder. Organizations like to think of themselves as meritocracies. They believe the ruthless internal competitiveness they stimulate lets the best people rise to the top. If only it were that easy. In Western (and especially American) society, we are brought up to believe that competition is a good way to motivate people, that it guarantees an optimal distribution of resources, and that it builds character. In reality, most people end up labeled as “losers” and become thoroughly demotivated as a result. Even the “winners” suffer. If success is so sweet, failure become a hideous nightmare. Many “high fliers” are filled with anxiety at the mere thought of failure, becoming some of the most superstitious and anxious people around.

All this pressure to deliver the impossible, and do it yesterday, forces people to take short cuts whenever they can. One of the simplest is to hire consultants to help you imitate what you believe others have done. In this way, creativity is excluded from people’s jobs and is no longer seen as an essential part of management or leadership.

The result of all this Hamburger Management, though it is given fine names like “practical business attitudes” or “getting things done on time, every time,” is to create a workplace that sucks. In another British survey:

  • 20% of respondents say that they are simply bored.
  • Almost a third of those interviewed claim to have no loyalty towards the organization they work for.
  • Almost three-quarters said that they did not believe they were making the most use of their knowledge and skills.
  • When asked if they thought their employer recognized their potential, an overwhelming eight out of 10 said that they didn’t.

We seem to have lost track of the notion that people come to work as people, not as mindless bits and pieces in some vast economic machine. Much of management education sucks as well. Those in charge are afraid that encouraging people to think will also encourage them to think “heresy” and challenge the present way of doing things—their way. (It should—and a very good thing too!) The result is boring mediocrity, based on learning that has nothing to do with business success, and everything to do with maintaining the status quo and minimizing the risk that someone, somewhere will do something new or creative.

Hamburger Management approaches fail on all counts. People are treated casually, pushed around, driven to exhaustion by continually escalating demands, rarely trusted to do anything without constant “appraisals” and threats, and often forced into producing shoddy work, cutting corners and sailing close to the wind, ethically, just to make this quarter’s numbers.

It’s time to call a halt and get back to working lives that mean something and produce the chance for genuine satisfaction.

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P.S. My new book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, was published last week. It’s available at Amazon and all good booksellers. Please take a look. Better still, buy a copy . . . or several!

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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