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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.

  1. I think one of the main problems in today’s business world is that people behave differently in their business life and in their private life. As individuals we sometimes have personal values that we disrespect in our business actions. We justify this by either saying “if I don’t behave this way I’ll get fired or can’t compete on the job market” or worse “if I don’t do it, somebody else will do it anyways – so what…”.

    We have to realize again that every one of our actions, private or professional, has an impact on society. At the end of the day we are responsible and accountable for every one of our acts. The problem of many MBA’s is that they still don’t teach societal responsibility. They give us the illusion that business and society are two things that can’t be seen together… Philosophy or ethics courses stay peripheral in MBAs…

  2. A friend who runs a consulting firm was trying to teach his employees to collaborate closely with their clients. When faced with a decision gate an employee would say something like, “I need to get buy-in from this other stakeholder” and my friend would say, “You don’t need to get ‘buy-in’, just put them all in the same room and work through the problem together! Pretend you’re at home with family and you’re deciding what to have for dinner. Do you work the political channels to get buy-in from them?”

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