BOOKS: A Blooming Relief

BOOKS: A Blooming Relief - Grass Roots Management; By Guy Browning; Prentice Hall Business pounds 8.99

by LESLIE HANNAH, chief executive of Ashridge Business School. Hewould not dare to use management jargon to his gardeners at the bighouse there, who manage themselves very well
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Grass Roots Management; By Guy Browning; Prentice Hall Business pounds 8.99

Who will hack back the management speak? Leslie Hannah enjoys a horticultural parable.

You can easily tell 'they' are wrong. They cover up their muddle-headedness with jargon that is intended to impress. Rather than pleasing customers, they 're-engineer the customer interface'. They don't admit that the merger the investment bankers are proposing will add no value: they conjure up un-deliverable 'synergies' because that is what they are told will follow the acquisition.

How to confront such appalling managers? Parodying them may produce some satisfaction, but not much - how can you parody someone so good at (unintended) self-parody?

Maybe business writers should take some advice from the world of literature; it worked, after all, for politics. George Orwell's Animal Farm was a far more powerful answer to GB Shaw's craven admiration for Stalin than any tome of political philosophy on the USSR. And some management gurus have already tried it. Possibly the best guides to applying the Theory of Constraints to project management issues are Eli Goldratt's business novels, Critical Chain and The Goal.

Guy Browning's new management book also tackles management issues by metaphor: in this case a parable of gardening.

John, the hero of Grass Roots Management, arrives at 'The Gardens', where demoralised gardeners are controlled by bosses in the 'Big House', who have overindulged in management speak about empowerment, and who are in thrall to value-destroying consultants.

The big boss, Martin, buys the consultants' plan to convert the garden to 'Horticultura'. Martin claims to have an open-door policy, although his secretary guards access jealously. But one day, John sees the door open and takes his chance to tell Martin some home truths. The new plans are jettisoned; slowly but surely things change. The gardeners' knowledge and values are harnessed by management actions, not by management speak.

The cynics become creative and the garden blooms. Meanwhile, competitors Florex (still advised by consultants) wallow in the old errors.

Guy Browning is no Orwell: the conversion of Martin, for example, is hardly convincing. But if high literature is not his major purpose, there is a lot of wisdom here. Chapter by chapter, the management lessons are carefully and clearly spelled out.

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