Today's modern organization is vastly different than the one created by the industrial revolution, which required managers. But times have changed. Maybe it's time to scrap managers all together.

In this article, I'm referring to managers interchangeably with executives. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray says that strategies for running large corporations, pioneered by men like Alfred Sloan of General Motors and popularized by scores of elite business schools, helped to fuel a century of unprecedented global prosperity. Murray suggests that management, as an innovation, won't survive the 21st century.

Why? The answer may be in the structure of corporations themselves, in which managers organized large numbers of people to perform a large number of tasks such as building cars and telephone services. While the virtues of great managers have been extolled to create legends such as Jack Welch, the most effective managers in recent times were actually enemies of corporate hierarchies and business schools, and most often owed their success to bypassing them.

In today's world, rapid globalization, innovation, competition and fluid economies have been creative, destructive forces dismantling many of the structures associated with 100 years of corporate bureaucracies. Suddenly, scores of old established institutions disappeared, while new ones such as Google and Facebook appear overnight, with very different organizational structures. Some futurists, such as Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, authors of Wikinomics, go as far as to say that corporate hierarchies will disappear as individuals are empowered to work together in creating a new era of mass collaboration--in a new Renaissance.

Gary Hamel, a professor at the London Business School, and regarded as the world's most influential business thinker, according to the Wall Street Journal and Fortune, is an advocate for rethinking management. He has established an online management laboratory where leading practitioners can collaborate on innovative ideas. Hamel says the biggest reason companies fail is that managers, who have vested interest in the status quo, fail to invest in change and innovation.

An even bigger challenge that faces organizations is creating workplaces that motivate and inspire workers. Survey after survey show that most workers in complex and large organizations are not engaged in their work. The new kind of workplace, Murray argues, has to instill in workers the same kind of drive, creativity and innovation spirit seen in entrepreneurs, which may explain why an increasing number of Generation Y are becoming entrepreneurs.

So does that mean we need to abolish management structures and replace them with ad-hoc teams of peers who come together to accomplish specific work and then disband? The concept of a learning organization and knowledge management may have to be re-examined as well. Traditional bureaucratic organizations focus on not sharing information, which is used as a source of power by managers. New mechanisms for sharing the "wisdom of crowds," or as the Japanese call it, "ba," may have to be part of rethinking management.

Robert Sutton, professor of management at Stanford University argues that defining the job of managers, as a profession, has no parallel to other professions. Most other professions are trained to put their client's interests ahead of their own. In contrast, Sutton argues the most effective managers take as much money as they can for themselves from their clients. Sutton suggests that managers would be well served to embrace the Buddhist philosophy of "do no harm."

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina Fong, writing in the Academy of Management Learning and Education, argue that research shows business schools are not influential on management practices in organizations. Harold Leavitt, writing in the California Management Review, says cryptically of business schools that they produce "critters with lopsided brains, icy hearts and shrunken souls." Rakesh Khurana, Nitin Nohria and Daniel Penrice, writing in the Harvard Business Review, point out that other professionals have criteria that define it as a profession, notably a common body of knowledge, a system for certifying individuals before they can practice, and a commitment to use knowledge for the public good, and a code of ethics. The field of management has none of these characteristics and therefore cannot be justifiably be called a profession.

So maybe the role of managers, with the focus on supervising people and work is no longer needed in modern organizations. Maybe it's time to scrap management altogether.

You can contact Ray Williams at

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