Philip Whiteley's Blog

November 20, 2014

A Management Shift starts here

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 7:00 pm

Notes for my talk at Vlatka Hlupic’s historic book launch, 20 November 2014 follow, due to appear as I give my short introductory talk. I’ll probably ad lib a little, but the drafted content is:

Welcome to San Francisco, to media and others joining on line, live here from London, Britain.

My name’s Philip Whiteley. I’m just the warm-up act before the star arrives. When it comes to talks, often the recommendation is: start with a joke. Then again, many people say to me: you’re a management writer, what do you know about comedy? And I reply – you’ve gotta be kidding? The world of management offers great material. Do you know, they refer to people as ‘resources’? When they talk about ‘blue sky’, they’re not talking about the sky. Or the colour blue.

When I quip that my day job consists of trying to convince economists and business schools that society consists of people, some folk think it’s satire. But it really is the problem. These absurd metaphors that the company is a structure and that people are ‘resources’. And it’s not an accident – it comes from bad ideological choices.

There have been many books making this point. By 1999 Jeffrey Pfeffer was able to describe a substantial and sophisticated body of evidence demonstrating how high-performance cultures generate superior returns. We’ve had progress since, but the kind of progress in 15 years that I had hoped for in five. I’ve gone grey working for this breakthrough. I wish that were a metaphor.

The explanation for this slowness is that evidence is not enough. If it was, the case would have been won years ago. That’s why our star guest this evening Vlatka Hlupic talks about a movement as well as a business case. It’s about narratives and hearts and minds, as well as empirical evidence and case studies.

The Management Shift is not the first textbook making this case, it won’t be the last. It is probably, however, the most comprehensive. I’m proud to have independently reached many of the same conclusions as Vlatka, but I’m not able to say to a busy executive: “Here’s a practical tool that will help you transform your business; you can begin tomorrow.”

Vlatka can do that – based on years of applied research.

We live in a time of technological change, but frustrating slowness in modernisation of business models. Many firms are investing heavily in Big Data, artificial intelligence etc, but how well are they managing their people? Given these intelligent, communicative sentient beings called human, business models treat them as resources. Then, given a machine efficient at data manipulation, there is effort to turn them into sentient beings. We treat people like robots and robots like people.

Highly engaged, well-led teams in organizations remain the exception – and Vlatka will produce some stats illustrating this. In a rational world, it would be the other way around: the dysfunctional or command and control employers would be a rogue few.

So while the talk is of 21st century technology and ‘progress’, our governance and reporting and management approaches are positively Mediaeval.

Remember, people are not only the most important asset. They create all the others!! (Where else do you think they come from?) That’s how it works. A company creates and deploys resources, it doesn’t consist of them.

So, sometimes, I think it’s funny to talk about nonsensical mechanistic metaphors of the old approach to business. But sometimes I get angry. Because it really is harmful for people working in business, and for their customers – “held in a queue and you will be answered shortly” – and ultimately for their owners. There is an enlightened alternative, as Vlatka will now demonstrate. It works in theory. It works in practice. That doesn’t guarantee it’ll become mainstream, but it absolutely deserves to and I hope you’ll give her the maximum support you can in spreading this vital message.

For more on the Management Shift, go to:


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