Management as Theatre: Thinking on Your Feet

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 Management as Theatre: Thinking on Your Feet


Today’s knowledge worker does own the means of production, the brain – although this may not have been quite what Karl Marx had in mind!

Managing ‘brains’ as a resource demands different thinking. Brains belong to ‘thinkers’. Thinkers do not, by definition, give their commitment to an organisation or project unthinkingly or unquestioningly. ‘Engaging’ thinkers is a crucial leadership function today. Which is why all kinds of ‘workforce consultation’ are increasingly important. Of all the means of exchange, one option provides high leverage and some ‘theatre’. It is called ‘The Town Meeting’, or similar. The workforce sees it as a kind of ‘Question Time’. The management  is more inclined to see images of a grilling on ‘Newsnight’, or ejection on ‘The Weakest Link’. Either way, it’s Management as Theatre, complete with first-night nerves. So, what’s the answer? A stiff scotch, or skill?  The same might be asked of a trapeze artist.  In both cases, it’s much better to rely on skill! Let’s sketch a scene from real life. Scene: The first Monday of each quarter. 2 pm. In the plant cafeteria at a well-known high-tech manufacturer. The ‘Town Meeting’. Cast: The 1,500 staff who work on this shift, and John, the local managing director. John was hired into Research on the basis of an outstanding PhD in Electronic Engineering. He’s risen quickly since then. Plot: A performance is in three acts:
  • Act 1: A video from HQ is shown first. Usual stuff—numbers, new products, corporate messages, etc.
  • Act 2: A presentation on local issues.
  • Act 3: The highlight (insert drum roll here): John stands up for “Question Time”.
Let’s fast-forward to Act 3 just as John is offering to take questions from the floor. His PhD is not of much use right now. He’ll have to depend on his knowledge of the business, his people skills, and what he’s learned about handling questions. He’s already done some preparation. Before the meeting, he completed a ‘brain-scan’ of the group; 15 minutes using a simple format to help him anticipate what’s on people’s minds…today. As it turns out, the questions from the floor are not too difficult. People are not inclined to make open challenges. John knows this, and has offered an alternative – a box where anonymous questions can be discretely submitted.  John now takes one of these questions (another drum roll please!), and  reads it out: “The operators on Line A just got a 12% increase. On Line B, we only got 10%.  Why?”  Time out:  How would you handle a question like this?  Do you think it’s the real question?  If not, what is? Next time … Find out how well John fares in the hot seat.    ]]>

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