Management Models or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love What I Do

I’ve never been a big fan of management models or leadership strategies; they presume a degree of involvement with and dependence on  squishy, iffy, essentially undependable other people, rather than diligence and skill. Also, the idea of mangament reeks of the black magic of the (recently out-of-vogue) financial industry: profiteering from the labour or capital of honest people. Producing value through one’s own work must surely be a great deal more gratifying than managing superior talent and genius who merely happen to lack organisational acumen or tools.

Regardless, managers are here to stay, for as long as large, impersonal organisations exist, and the software or tools we create to harness and manage crowdsourced intelligence can’t outperform humans. Managers will manage, and they will have wage slaves, conscripts, prisoners, and a whole menagerie of unwilling or unconvinced subordinates to, if not win over, at least put to good use. As an NSF I clearly have vested interest in understanding the dark arts managers use to cow their unwilling subordinates, so, let’s take a look at one of these methods I’ve encountered recently.

In an attempt to improve productivity (the lifeblood of management), an officer presented a model explaining Event Management and Worker Motivation and other mysterious forces that only management can even begin to pretend to understand. In its simplest of forms, it goes as follows:

Events <- Patterns <Structures <- Mindsets <- Vision

From what I fathomed, it has something to do with the levels at which management can intervene to prevent Bad Things in order to win Manager-of-the-Month awards and similar accolades. The most junior and inexperienced managers are capable of only reacting to events as they occur, and coordinating damage control, but as they learn the tricks of the trade they usually become capable of formulating structures, rules, and onerous regulations that mitigate or prevent events. However, it is only the truly talented, the brilliant few who can, through subtle bullying, coercion, masterful use of charisma, probably some backstabbing and playacting, and perhaps some sort of dark sorcery, worm their way into their wage slaves’ minds and win them over to a vision of excellence for a cause that does not serve them.

Few managers ever reach that pinnacle of achievement, but the insidiousness of that reaching into and turning the mind is morbidly fascinating. How exactly is it done?

What follows is purely speculation, so there can be no guarantee of truth, rigorous fact checking, or accuracy. What I do promise is a couple of hypotheses into the methods of management, one forwarded by a manager, and another, more insidious one, that occurred to me.

The first hypothesis (the one that both workers and managers would like to believe true) is that management, through inspiring leadership and teaching, uncovers and illuminates in workers a belief in the cause. Workers who see their work furthering a purpose they have neither stake nor belief in are, perhaps through incisive questioning, brought to a realisation of their false assumptions and faulty thinking. Like Plato’s cavedwellers, they are brought to the surface world and see things as they truly are: that their position is that of cogs in a mighty machine serving a True Cause and Worthy Objective. Nothing boosts worker motivation, makes positives mindsets, and aligns personal aspiration with organisational vision like turning disillusionment into worthwhile, fruitful, accomplishment.

There is a problem with the first hypothesis though. It holds only in cases where the true purpose, the one that is clouded in the worker’s mind but subsequently revealed in all its brilliance, is actually something the worker can find palatable and worthwhile. If a worker comes to the conclusion that he is frustrated by his work (and hence, an unproductive and bad worker) not because it is onerous, but because it is actively opposed to his personal core beliefs, he becomes an even larger liability. This, however, is remediable if the second hypothesis is true.

The second, disturbing, hypothesis I have arrived at is really very simple. Banking on the usefulness of wage slavery (or other means through which workers and chained to their work), managers can keep their workers toiling away at jobs that eat away at their inner being. And, indeed, this erosion of the spirit occurs. But, the human mind is a resilient thing; it adapts to difficult situations to ease its burden. As the cognitive dissonance of believing in one thing and doing something apart or counter to it mounts, the worker comes under increasing stress. Eventually, the pressure builds up unbearably, and the mind collapses. Thankfully, the human mind is surprisingly failure resistant. We don’t end up with babbling monkeys on the shop floor, only workers who have convinced themselves (or been forcibly convinced by the futility of their situation) that they do believe in what was hitherto soul-crushingly futile.

And that is a plausible explanation I’ve come up with for converting workers to the cause. It seems plausible enough, although we should allow for the process of rewiring to take some time; no one is predicting overnight conversions.

Scary innit? I hope I’m wrong

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One Response to “Management Models or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love What I Do”

  1. cancerstick99 Says:

    Okay we’re having an sms conversation about this but let me just put it up properly in a reply.

    Daily work is usually motivated by both task-specific motivations as well as larger-ideal motivations. For example, if someone tells you to move a chair from point A to B, you will want to do it because….

    1. No procrastination, get it done. No lazy.
    2. So a person at point B will get to take a seat which will make him feel more comfortable.

    1. is your work-ethic, you get things done because of your attitude. 2. is because you have some larger goals in mind.

    Failure to identify with 2. in your work environment, be it because it is too corporate or because it is SAF shouldn’t, imo, affect your performance due to the 1st factor. Of course, provided that your job isn’t an immoral one – to have a good work ethic hence is not an excuse to be morally blind, nor should it ideally have anything to do with being morally blind. Focus on the first doesn’t make a person disillusioned with the second a dysfunctional human.

    Really, I think the problem in SAF is that there are a lot of incompetent people through which the organisation’s ideals are funnelled through. The lack of a tangible beneficiary for an NSF’s actions are often a reason for his frustration. Turning to the SAF’s ideals / visions is actually a stupid source of motivation because it is too abstract.

    You mentioned that work is too menial in the army. True, but your role in war is merely that of a soldier – do your job, do it well, maybe you survive, maybe you don’t. With that end in mind, and the fact that you serve in such an organisation which has that end in mind, you have to work in a platoon or a company that is designed to fulfil that mission. And with such work there is no potential for change, at least on the 2. level (referencing my first few paras on motivation). You can only work on your internal work ethics, your own attitude towards the work itself. From a point of allocative efficiency in this closed system (whose characteristics and internal work division are defined by its purpose in war), it is more efficient to put a regular in a position that utilises his potential more, than to put an NSF in that position.

    Opportunity cost is a rather misleading way to look at things (I could be doing or ) because there is no measure of what is possible what is not. If this concept is misused, we would all be thinking that it is much better that I am put in charge of a lot of important things, drawing a lot of pay, or I could be furthering my studies, etc. Opportunity cost is a concept that is useful in evaluating decisions which are within your power to make. That is, whether you want to spend your weekend studying or playing soccer. Whether you could be starting your career early isn’t within your power. You see, a decision MUST be made by a certain person, and opportunity cost is tagged to a decision, and hence tagged to this certain person’s perspective. In a sense, your fate lies in each evaluation made by administrators of many levels. Every one of them makes a measurement of opportunity cost, and as I said, it must come from a certain perspective.

    From the unit S1’s point of view, given a certain set of jobs, whether I want to put NSF Jingxian in a higher-order thinking job, or a lower-order thinking job. From a government’s perspective, whether I want to have citizen Jingxian doing his NS, or have him start his career early but have lots of Singaporeans complain that it is unfair.

    Likewise, if you say that the work can be done by a robot, from whose perspective is the opportunity cost you mentioned measured by? It is imaginary, because it does not exist. There is no ‘perspective’ where this opportunity cost can be valued, because no such decision, as well as no such person exists to make this decision. Until the day comes where technology allows this question to be directly answered, then the question shall exist.

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