A concise introduction

by Richard Pettinger

Chapter 5

The final part of any introduction and introductory part of any management text is to make clear that everything has to work in practice. There is therefore nothing esoteric or utopian about any of the material covered in part one of this book – it has applications in every situation and set of circumstances.

There are pressures however in terms of relating knowledge to practice; and so you have to be able to work within these pressures and constraints and be effective. These pressures come from:
  • the company or organisation and its resources and ways of working
  • company and industry or sectoral matters
  • staffing matters and issues, including people’s hopes and fears
  • the diversity of your people and staff
  • the technology that you use and how this affects the patterns of work that you have.
You have to be able also to work within specific constraints – the law, environmental pressures, getting to grips with sustainability, managing scarce, limited and finite resources, investing in and using technology to best advantage.

Everything has then to be related to the key managerial pressures of delivering performance, being effective, getting things done with and through and for people. You have to recognise where ideal solutions to problems will not be possible. You have to recognise that everything that you do or propose has to be capable of being sustained through the conduct of business.

You have to recognise that over time the practice of management and the practices used by managers have to change in order to meet new demands and opportunities – and new problems and issues. Especially as organisations grow and develop, you need to create the means for continued effective supervision and management – what might have been capable of being managed and organised and directed by one person may not now be so, as either there are now too many staff to be able to organise and direct, or the activities have now diversified to a point where the original management person or team is no longer knowledgeable enough to be able to do all this effectively.

Case studies and examples

Genuine mishaps
Genuine mishaps are very few and far between; most accidents and emergencies can and should be avoided. However, when they do occur, it is essential that managers do learn from them, and ensure that they can never happen again. For example:

Baton Twirling
During a carnival parade, the leader of a troupe of majorettes threw her baton too high. It hit an electric cable, causing a county wide black out. The cable itself over-heated, severed and collapsed, causing a fire at the generator station.

The Space Ship
A space ship launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, went very badly wrong. Carrying telecommunications satellites worth £30 million, the ship suddenly nose dived into the Atlantic Ocean. The subsequent inquiry found that one set of figures programmed into the control computer contained a minus sign, when it should have been a plus sign. 

The Japanese Stock Exchange
A trader on the Japanese stock exchange lost more than $3 billion during an otherwise quiet day's trading. This led to an immediate panic and questions of melt down. The subsequent inquiry found that the trade, a man in his forties of many years' experience, had accidentally hit the enter key, rather than the delete key,  on his computer; and this had caused the programme on which he was working to sell rather than buy.

The Spanner
While repairing one of the UK's nuclear submarines, a mechanic accidentally dropped a spanner. The spanner fell into the torpedo firing mechanism. The mechanic was unable to retrieve the spanner manually. Consequently the submarine had to be dry docked, and the whole torpedo firing mechanism dismantled. The accident cost £800,000.

The Oil Storage Depot 
One frosty winter's morning, the people of Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, UK, were woken by an explosion that sounded as if the next world war had broken out. They looked out of their windows to see that the oil storage depot close by had blown up and was burning out of control. Many hundreds had to be evacuated. It later became clear that the most likely cause of the fire was someone calling a mobile phone that had not been switched off.

Other than examples such as these, it is essential to take active steps towards ensuring that accidents do not happen. While each of the above was caused and attributed to a combination of circumstances, most managers in practice know and understand where the potential problems lie; and so they must take action to ensure that as far as possible, nothing else can go wrong. If unforeseen circumstances can come together to cause this level of destruction and damage, then anything that could have been foreseen ought to be capable of evaluation and elimination. If something that was genuinely unforeseen does happen, then it is noted and remembered and step are taken to ensure that it never happens again, as above.

On the other hand….

Managerial Logic????
All organisations and their managers try to ensure that things are done to the best of everyone's ability as often as possible. Some then seek to provide logical and incremental structures for everything at the organisation; and others seek 'logical' approaches to the ways of working with which they have to contend. Both the processes sought and the outcomes demanded, however, are rarely logical.

A grocery wholesale company hired an expensive management consultant to introduce a version of 'Total Quality Management'. This consultant's pitch was that he had discovered the process of eliminating mistakes form every area of human activity at work. The line of reasoning with this 'truth' went as follows:
  1. if you can go for ten seconds without making any mistakes, you can go for a minute without making any mistakes;
  2. if you can go for a minute without making any mistakes, you can then go for an hour without making any mistakes;
  3. if you can go for an hour without making any mistakes, you can go for a morning without making any mistakes; and then a day; and then a week; and so on.
When questioned on the likelihood of this happening in practice, the consultant's response was as follows:
  1. if you do not eliminate mistakes, then you condone them;
  2. if you condone mistakes, you have then to establish what is an acceptable or allowable level of mistakes and errors.
When someone from the company stated that 'you try to do things as well as possible, but obviously things do go wrong', the consultant replied: 'Well, how many then? One per cent? One in a hundred? Would you accept this rate of errors from absolutely everyone? What if doctors dropped one in a hundred babies on their heads? What if one in a hundred airliners crashed into the side of a mountain?' The consultant was making a 'logical connection' between the sorts of things that go wrong in grocery loading bays (eg: dropping the occasional box of tinned fruit or vegetables) and fundamental design flaws in airliners, or misconduct in the medical professions.

Comment on both extremes – the genuinely unforeseen, and also the assertion that if you can go for an hour without making a mistake then you can go for a lifetime without making a mistake. Establish for yourself where the actual truth of the matters lie.

The key lesson is the need for the active involvement of managers at all levels of the organisation at all times.

Discussion questions

‘For a manager in action, it is much better to be known as a meddler and over involved than as an absentee’. Discuss.

What are the best ways of finding out where the problems lie in an organisation? What are the best ways of addressing them when you do find them?

As stated above, as organisations grow and diversify, you have to find the means of continuing effective supervision. What means of doing this are open to you, and what are the costs and consequences of each that you have to be prepared to acknowledge?