Clear Winners

MT presents the victors of the third annual MCA/MT Management Writing Awards. We're pleased to name Charles Handy as winner of Best Management Book for his inspiring autobiography Myself and Other More Important Matters.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Entries were judged on contribution to management thinking, originality and clarity of language by a panel of business journalists, management thinkers and doers. Here are extracts from the winning entries in three of the competition's categories (no award was made in the Young Writer section).

By Alison Thomas The Public Servant, 29 July 2005

Organisers of London's Olympic bid may still be celebrating its success but there is a spectre at their feast - the man responsible for clearing up the Millennium Dome mess.

London's showpiece Olympic projects could end up sharing the same fate as the Dome unless government learns the lessons of that debacle, according to David James, the business troubleshooter brought in to salvage the Dome wreckage, and who is now heading the committee set up by the Conservative party to monitor implementation of the Government's Gershon savings.

These are lessons, says James, that have implications for the way government conducts its business in general, not just for the Olympics. Whitehall and Westminster control freakery not only imposes extra administrative burdens but also skews policy priorities, he argues. Process takes precedence over objectives, procurement rules actually militate against effective procurement, and covering your back takes priority over effective delivery of policy.

'The priority of government should not be the protection of its own arse,' James says. 'It should be the channelling of expenditure where it can most meaningfully contribute to the benefit of the end user - the taxpaying public.' And while government rhetoric stresses frontline delivery, in reality, departments fail to work coherently to achieve it.

'There is no prioritising of purpose and function. There needs to be greater concentration on the essentials rather than all the undisciplined, peripheral spending that goes on. If it doesn't assist sharp-end delivery it shouldn't be there at all.'

Instead, the focus is on jumping through the correct hoops, he says.

Accountability becomes a means of escaping blame when things go wrong, rather than putting in place effective management to address and prevent errors.

'When I was at the Dome I learned a lot about the psychology by which cost control applies in government, or rather doesn't apply,' James says.

'I was deeply concerned at what I saw of government procurement policy - which does not give a fig for whether the policy is producing the best outcome. All it is concerned with is whether it is being correctly discharged so that nobody, up to permanent secretary level, is going to get a king-sized bollocking from the National Audit Office for the right forms not being in place.'

Highly Commended 'Mamma Moda'
By Melanie Stern, Families in Business, July/August 2006
By Charles Handy (William Heinemann, 2006)
From Chapter 16, 'Guru Times'

More and more, I have moved from dealing with the 'how' questions to the 'why' ones. It is the Socratic impulse that keeps me questioning.

Why do we need such big organisations, when most of us don't relish working in them? Why do we treat those within them in the ways that we do? Why do we live our lives as we do? Success has many faces. Why do we choose the ones we do?

Is there too much love of money, for its own sake? Or is capitalism at fault - or, more truthfully, our interpretation of capitalism?

I can't think of any better mechanism for making the world a better place than a set of open-market economies, carefully regulated so that they remain properly competitive. But it is the phrase 'making the world a better place' that is often missing from the capitalist narrative. As it is currently seen and measured, capitalism takes selfishness to be its driving force, something that can easily develop into greed. Capitalism assumes that it is part of the human condition to be all out for ourselves in a dog-eat-dog world. We are hard-wired for competition. It is a rather dismal assumption. Nor is it necessarily a true one. There is an altruistic gene in most of us. Most of us want to contribute to as well as take from the world. The danger, as I see it, is that the language of capitalism, reinforced by its instruments and the measures they use, may imprison us in a cause that we don't necessarily believe in. But, when the more brutalist version of capitalism is dominant, what else can most of us do except conform to the stereotype, muttering dissent as we go?

Because the capitalist narrative decrees that more is better, businesses continually buy their competitors, and are aided and abetted by their bankers and consultants in so doing, although all the evidence is that only in a minority of cases does the end result leave the customer or the purchasing shareholders better off. Why, then, do they continue to do it, creating organisations too big for human scale in the process?

Why do organisations, when reporting their actions during the year, speak only of results for them, seldom for their customers or the world at large?

Because, I have to assume, more is thought to be better, be it more power, bigger sales or greater influence. Yet we know that in much of the rest of life, and in other organisations, more is not always better. I sometimes suggest to business executives that if they were to ask a symphony orchestra what its growth plans were for the coming year, they might not speak of increasing the number of musicians, or even the number of performances, but would talk more of growing their repertoire and their reputation.

Yes, more money would help, but only as a means to achieve those ends.

It is no different for other arts organisations, or schools, better often when smaller.

Meeting with a wine grower in the Napa Valley who told me that his ambition was to grow his business, I said, looking around me, 'Where will you find the extra land, or are you going to buy up your neighbours?'

'Oh, I don't need to grow bigger,' he replied, 'just better.'

Why don't more businesses think like that, I wonder?

Business, I continue to argue, mistakes its means for its ends, and we will always continue to do so until we, society backed by government, redefine those ends to make them more relevant to the needs of more people.

It is not enough, I believe, to pay one's taxes and leave the rest to government.

Inevitably, perhaps, my messages are a reflection of my values. I do care more for individuals than organisations, who are, after all, just their instruments. I believe that if organisations were to take more seriously the individuals who are, in effect, the organisation, they would find their own objectives easier to achieve. I believe that organisations are, in a broad sense, the servants of society. They exist to provide us with the things and services we need or want. We rely on them to do so efficiently and effectively. Ideally, their interests and ours should coincide, but they will prosper most if they define their purpose as something bigger than their own survival. Those organisations, as well as those individuals, who work only for their own benefit, eventually discover that they are their own worst customer, because they are never satisfied, seldom thanked and leave no legacy. The definition of success in our modern affluent world is one of our more intractable problems. It was easier once when we had fewer choices. Now we can choose but have no good criterion for the choices. Even business executives have to be philosophers.

Highly Commended
Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?
By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (Harvard Business School Press, 2006)

- Readers can buy Myself and Other More Important Matters (RRP £18.99) for the special price of £15.99 with free UK p&p. To order, call the MT Bookshop on 08700 702 999 or order online at - please quote reference 'Handy'

By Stephen Overell Financial Times, 28 December 2005

Surveying her new beauty salon and string of properties, Jade Goody tells the Christmas issue of Now magazine that her work has endured longer than 'the expected five minutes', since winning a British reality television show in 2002. 'I've used my brain for one,' she smiles. 'Now I can actually say I've succeeded and I'm doing really well.'

The work of celebrities, engaged in the manufacture and maintenance of fame, is clearly not quite the same as the work of others. But what exactly is this 'work', and does its phenomenal growth in recent years have anything to say about the direction the wider world of work is headed? The fame game appears to have spawned a group of elite workers whose labour is only partly understood by businesses seeking to place products, develop brands and analyse social trends.

David Holman, senior lecturer at the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield, says celebrities could be classified as 'emotional labourers' - a term coined in the 1980s to describe service workers, such as call-centre operatives, required to express, or fake, certain feelings.

But they are also 'aesthetic labourers' whose looks are the tools of their trade, as with some bar staff. And perhaps, also, they might be described as 'identity labourers' who make lifestyles and sell identities within a specialist branch of the entertainment industry.

It is tempting to think that working with fake emotion is inherently exploitative. But it is not so simple, says Holman. 'Not being true to one's feelings could be seen as a common, even necessary, part of life - think of having to attend awkward parties or of doctors delivering bad news.'

Nevertheless, a 'dissonance' between the emotions expressed to do a job and how the worker really feels is a familiar feature of emotional labour, he says.

The labour of celebrities, argues Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, who has a book called Celebrity Culture due out next year, is not so much about acting, singing or sport as about 'appearing - their work is presence'.

The celebrity of a star such as Tom Cruise, he suggests, is as much about his serial marriages, his affiliation to Scientology and his strong views on homosexuality, as about his acting. 'The widely different values in this labour market are determined not by objective standards but by how much pleasure consumers derive from reading, seeing and hearing about them - from being guilt-free voyeurs,' says Prof Cashmore.

The fascination with celebrity for its own sake, fuelled by voracious demand for material across assorted media platforms, has meant Britain has a lot of celebrities, and has recently started to export the obsession with them to other countries, such as France, by starting celebrity magazine franchises there.

Nick Isles, director of advocacy at the Work Foundation, says that celebrities turning themselves into mini-brands generate significant supply chains of agents, advisers, consultants, make-up artists, photographers, publicists and so on. 'The British economy has come on a hugely complex journey, and celebrities offer a good example of how value is created in today's world.'

The celebrity labour market, says Diane Coyle, director of Enlightenment Economics, offers an insight into how difficult it is to square the traditional concept of 'productivity' with the actual work that people do. 'The price that celebrities command is a reflection of their value, but their product is, in effect, themselves, so it is hard to see how you could measure their productivity.'

Celebrities - both those famous for their talents and those famous for getting out of taxis - demonstrate an increasingly common experience: the way that people become their work.

Ever since the industrial revolution, work has been portrayed as something to be endured for the sake of earning a living. To survive the ordeal, workers needed to have a strict separation between their economic lives and their personal lives - between what they did and who they were. This is not the case with celebrities. Their economic life is inseparable from their personal life. By swapping privacy for money and turning themselves into a public spectacle, they literally become their work. The same applies to a lesser extent to many other ambitious knowledge workers: personhood and livelihood are becoming largely indivisible.

Highly Commended
'Fantastic Voyage'
By Andrew Sawers Financial Director, October 2005


Sir Paul Judge, chairman of the Royal Society of Arts; John McLaren, chairman of the Barchester Group; Alan Russell, president of the MCA and director of LogicaCMG's consulting unit; Cilla Snowball, chair of AMV BBDO; Stefan Stern, MT contributing editor and FT columnist; Henry Stewart, CEO of Happy; and MT editor Matthew Gwyther.

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