Management by ‘Drives’

Proper management requires balanced stress on objectives, especially by top management. It rules out the common and pernicious business malpractice: management by ‘crises and ‘drives’.

There may be companies in which management people do not say: The only we ever anything done around here is by making a drive on it. Yet “management by drive” is the rule rather than the exception. That things always collapse into the status quo ante three weeks after the drive is over, everybody knows and apparently expects. The only result of an “economy drive” is likely to be that messengers and typists get fired and that $15,000 executives are forced to do $50-a-week work typing their own letters. And yet managements have not drawn the obvious conclusion that drives are, after all, not the way to get things done.

But over and above its ineffectiveness, management by drive misdirects. It puts all emphasis on one phase of the job to the inevitable detriment of everything else.

For four weeks we cut inventories, a case hardened veteran of management by crisis once summed it up. Then we have four weeks of cost cutting, followed by four weeks of human relations. We just have time to push customer service and courtesy for a month. And then the inventory is back where it was when we started. We don’t even try to do our job. All management talks about, thinks about, preaches about is last week’s inventory figure or this week’s customer complaints. How we do the rest of the job they don’t even want to know.

In an organization which manages by drives people either neglect their job to get on with the current drive, or silently organize for collective sabotage of the drive to get their work done. In either event they become deaf to the cry of “wolf”. And when the real crisis comes, when all hands should drop everything and pitch in, they treat it as just another case of management created hysteria.

Management by drive, like management by “bellows and meat ax,” is a sure sign of confusion. It is an admission of incompetence. It is a sign that management does not know how to plan. But, above all, it is a sign that the company does not know what to expect of its managers – that, not knowing how to direct them, it misdirects them.

By definition, a manager is responsible for the contribution that his component makes to the larger unit above him and eventually to the enterprise. His performance aims upward rather than down ward. This means that the goals of each manager’s job must be defined by the contribution he has to make to the success of the larger unit of which he is part. The objectives of the district sales manager’s job should be defined by the contribution he and his district sales force to make to the sales department, the objectives of the project engineer’s job by the contribution he and his engineers and draftsmen make to the engineering department. The objectives of the general manager of a decentralized division should be defined by the contribution his division has to make to the objectives of the parent company.

This requires each manager to develop and set the objectives of his unit himself. Higher management must, of course, reserve the power to approve or disapprove these objectives. But their development is part of a manager’s responsibility; indeed, it is his first responsibility. It means, too that every manager should responsibly participate in the development of the objectives of the higher unit of which his is a part. To “give him a sense of participation (to use a pet phrase of the “human relations” jargon) is not enough. Being manager demands the assumption of a genuine responsibility. Precisely because his aims should reflect the objective needs of the business, rather than merely what the individual manager wants he must commit himself to them with a positive act of assent.