BOOKS: Coaching from the scrum - Managers can't just cheer from the sidelines now - they have to join in. Charles Handy praises a timely reminder that it's hard to do both

BOOKS: Coaching from the scrum - Managers can't just cheer from the sidelines now - they have to join in. Charles Handy praises a timely reminder that it's hard to do both - The Rise of the Player Manager; By Philip Augar and Joy Palmer; Penguin 12.99

by CHARLES HANDY, who's latest book is The Elephant and the Flea,published by Hutchinson
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Rise of the Player Manager; By Philip Augar and Joy Palmer; Penguin 12.99

Many years ago, I started my working life as a management trainee. Management, I was told, was to be my role: organising the work of others, who would often be doing things that I couldn't do myself. It was the time when management aspired to be a profession in its own right, with perks and privileges all its own. Managers sprung up everywhere, even in the sacrosanct areas of the professions, and the ranks of middle managers expanded exponentially.

It was probably always a bit of a myth that the act of managing could be divorced from the actual work. But it took the combination of shareholder pressure for better returns and lower costs, and the rise of the knowledge workers, who were assumed to be able to manage themselves, to expose the myth for what it was: often an expensive luxury.

Whole swathes of middle managers disappeared as companies were re-engineered. Managing for added value was now more important than ever, but increasingly the principal workers were going to have to do it while they worked. We are all managers and businesspeople now, wherever we work and whatever we do.

Part of the value of The Rise of the Player Manager lies in its recognition of what is happening, and, by labelling it, directing our attention to what has been an unnoticed revolution in companies. The title is culled from the world of sport, but as more and more organisations are restructured into project teams and business groups the analogy of the player manager is ever more apposite.

The problem is that the players are often expected to pick up the managing part of the job by instinct or osmosis, as if it were something that all able-bodied, mature people could learn to do after a bit of trial and error - like riding a bike.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that, as Augar and Palmer demonstrate, using colourful examples of player managers in action. For many, the playing inevitably takes precedence over the managing as the player managers strive to maintain their own records of competence and achievement. Play first, manage later if there is time, seems to be the formula for most.

For those who succeed in giving equal prominence to both parts of their job, it can be their home life that suffers as time runs out. Few are given help by their organisations in the management aspects of their job.

There is now the worry that both individuals and companies may burn out if this form of organisation is allowed to grow without proper care and attention to the problems it causes.

Augar and Palmer provide a useful introduction to these problems and the sort of help that is required. They do so in a pleasingly reader-friendly way, by analysing the job and the priorities of Amanda, a typical player manager. They go on to identify six types of player manager and six management levers that they can use, pointing out that leveraging the performance of the whole group by 10% would be more valuable than an improvement in anyone's individual contribution.

The lists are helpful, although every job and every individual will always be a mix of all of them. The overall impression left by the individual stories, however, is worrying. Once again, the British love of the amateur seems to be surfacing: the amateur manager subsumed in the professional player. Maybe we were all wrong to try to make management into a separate profession, but we must find better ways to make management a part of every profession. We must also ensure it is regarded as a prerequisite of effective professionalism by those in charge of our organisations.

This also requires those who teach management to find better ways to earth their teaching in the work of the different players, so that its relevance is more immediately obvious. This pleasing book, itself earthed in a recognisable reality, is an important wake-up call.

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