Stewart: ultimately, it’s all about values, and not an MBA

The Management Myth by Matthew Stewart argues against the value of Winslow Taylor’s methods, an MBA education, and much of management theory. His tone is often snarky and flip, which is a shame because it undermines the delivery of some great ideas, such as this discussion of values:

…as anyone who has studied Aristotle will know, “Values” aren’t something you bump into from time to time during the course of a business career. All of business is about values, all of the time. Notwithstanding the ostentatious use of stopwatches, Taylor’s pig iron case was not a description of some aspect of physical reality — how many tons can a worker lift? It was a prescription — how many tons should a worker lift? The real issue at stake in Mayo’s telephone factory was not factual — how can we best establish a sense of teamwork? It was moral — how much of a worker’s sense of identity and well-being does a business have a right to harness for its purposes?

Someone else pointed this out to me recently by saying, “We know that McDonald’s has values. Because if they didn’t, they’d be selling crack.

Wal-Mart enters the consulting biz

This is interesting…

Wal-Mart Stores, whose all-in-one retailing model has forced scores of competitors to close their doors over the last 40 years, is turning to an unusual business plan: helping its rivals.

The giant discount retailer, under increasing assault by critics, announced a wide-ranging effort yesterday to support small businesses near its new urban stores, including the hardware stores, dress shops and bakeries with which it competes.

Wal-Mart said it would offer those businesses financial grants, training on how to survive with Wal-Mart in town and even free advertising within a Wal-Mart store.

Wal-Mart will hold seminars to coach the businesses on how to compete with the giant discount stores — by, for example, intensifying customer service, for which Wal-Mart often receives low marks. An annual report on trends in Wal-Mart’s business will be distributed exclusively to those companies.

Setting cynical PR claims aside, this plan both makes a lot of sense and very little sense. Teaching businesses unfamiliar with differentiation is great, and just what they need to compete with Wal-Mart. But who wants customer service advice from a company that sucks at customer service? I’d bet the best form of training would be a collection of video case studies (no classrooms, no books) of small businesses that continued to succeed even after Wal-Mart came to town. Simply amplifying messages from managers of successful small businesses will be more valuable — and more authentic — than anything Wal-Mart itself could say.