September 04, 2012

The Management Mystery

Since yesterday was Labor Day, and I'm supposed to be a contrarian, I thought I'd really go contrarian and write a little something today in praise of management.

I live in Oakland, California. It may be the most mismanaged city on the face of the earth. It is a city so teeming with incompetence that the police department has announced it will not respond to most crimes.

The city government has been the subject of an FBI probe. The Oakland School District is being investigated by a federal grand jury. Worst of all, children are being gunned down in the streets.

Meanwhile, the morons on the City Council are all hysterical because the feds are closing down the "medical" marijuana "dispensaries" that line Broadway. 

Some details of Oakland's pathetic "leadership" can be found in a NY Times Magazine piece from a few weeks ago called "The World Capital of Anti-Capitalism."

And yet, the citizenry of Oakland keeps electing the same ridiculous imbeciles over and over again despite their abject ineptitude.

I have a feeling that the reason for this is that people do not seem to understand the relationship between management and outcomes. Ideology trumps competence. If you sing the right song, it doesn't matter to most people how awful you are at your job, because they don't really understand what executives do or how they can make or break an organization.

Just as in city government, incompetent leadership in an ad agency will also create monstrous problems. The difference is, cities can't close down. Agencies can.

When I was a copywriter it was very easy to demonstrate my accomplishments. "See this ad, mom? I wrote it." But when I told mom that I had become president of an ad agency, she congratulated me. Then there was a long pause.... "so, what do you do?"

Management's failures are obvious, but their accomplishments are substantially invisible. People are prone to thinking that the buses just show up, and the streets repair themselves, and the garbage magically disappears. They don't realize how much planning and expertise it takes to get this stuff right. Not just by the people who do the work, but also by the people behind the scenes who have to make sure the right people, systems, and resources are in place.

Many people in agencies think the work just shows up. They think the new clients and the new hires just pop into existence. They think the pay checks write themselves. As a result, they are skeptical that the big shots in the front offices with their mysterious meetings and their ubiquitous carry-ons are really adding anything of value.

This is not to say that there aren't incompetent people running agencies. There are zillions of them. One look at the long list of former agencies is all it takes to prove how large the pool of lousy agency executives has been.

But before you allow childish rebelliousness to totally taint your view of the value of agency leadership, I suggest you do this -- try starting one yourself.

No comments: