5) Figure out functional management and apply it locally
Drucker’s “making knowledge effective” definition envisions management as a practice and a discipline. It may also be a technology, perhaps in the same sense of “intermediate” or “appropriate” technologies characterized by writers such as E. F. Schumacher.
J. F. C. Turner describes appropriate technology as something “ordinary people can use for their own benefit and the benefit of their community, that doesn’t make them dependent on systems over which they have no control. This definition focuses on the idea that technology typically creates dependencies and thus to truly be appropriate, technology should enhance the local or regional capacity to meet local needs, rather than creating or amplifying dependencies on systems beyond local control.”
In the long and sordid history where external forces have manipulated or swallowed emerging economies, wresting resources to build global capacities elsewhere, “management” may have been abused as a tool of control. It follows, then, that treating management as a technology that enhances local control and capacity, when used appropriately, can do much to realizing the potential of local places. Further, management can be seen as a local, “intermediate” technology, in that it works best, it is most effective, when it is scaled to context.
I’ve been tracking the term functional management for a few months using Google Alert. There does not seem to be any consensus on what it means. This post hopes to probe a little harder at a working definition.
So, a possible thought experiment … as an intermediate technology, if functional management is the simplest, locally-contextualized management solution that could possibly work, it is likely constrained by locale, time and context. What may work on one day will not work on the next. It solves the short-term problem and no more. Is this “just enough” for a particular cultural and management context? The global context may provide the longer view, and expand “just enough” to local and global.
If we pushed this approach further, functional management could be where a conversation about an MBA for the rest of the world could begin. It envisions learning about managing in both local and global contexts, but originates with community outcomes framing eventual places of realized potential. It deals with appropriately-scaled organizations and businesses – those in the emerging economic middle – celebrates entrepreneurship and innovation in both business and social sectors, and persistently builds local capacity as a function of community wellness, keying on health vulnerabilities.
Functional management presupposes a motivated and imaginative target audience. Unlike microfinance initiatives, its goal is not to alleviate poverty, but to start where these programs end by stimulating long-term scenarios that embrace whole communities, aiming at groups rather than individuals, organizations rather than entrepreneurial loners [entrepreneurship has social impacts and social responsibilities], building integrated and clustered small to medium-sized businesses and social sector organizations, and doing so with attentiveness to those values and beliefs that [nourish] create human flourishing.
Problematically, this may exclude the poorest of the poor from participating, but at the same time recognizes the awkward reality that some levels of vulnerability can only be mitigated by direct aid and relief. Where vulnerability exceeds not only capacity, but potential capacity in a community, outside intervention is the only hope. This is largely the case in complex emergencies. (See HAVUC)
These possibilities raise more questions:
- What are the outcomes for the development of indigenous enterprise development?
- What is the current situation in emerging economies and how do we plan for results in light of it?
- Do we differentiate between local and global outcomes and if we do, how?
- Assuming a local and global orientation:
- What should be the content and context for the curriculum?
- What is “appropriate” or “intermediate” technology for these applications?
- How can these ideas be developed and spread virally, through innovations such as wikis, using open-source approaches? (or are these even “appropriate”?)
- What will success look like?
- How do we pursue these objectives humbly and in context?
Here’s a working definition as a starting point for functional management: (heck, we have to start somewhere)
A locally-determined and appropriate set of management and leadership knowledge, skills, attributes, practice and tools that make small to medium-sized organizations effective through culturally-relevant relationships and practice. Functional management creates specific and local places of realized potential where human flourishing is possible.
Is our cultural conception of the MBA asking the right questions? While we might gin up thought experiments about “MBAs for the rest of the world”, perhaps the rest of the world doesn’t need an MBA at all. It may need functional management solutions that will solve the immediate problem. Longer term, strategic management capacity building may be a dimension of functional management that builds on some MBA model eventually. Alternatively, can there be an MBA that addresses functional management?
What might that look like?
Who else is working on this?
Previous posts in this series:
- Re-orient your worldview
- Live with “the rest” for a while
- Don’t assume that a U.S. model is right, good or appropriate anywhere else
- Set up the teaching MBA that will equip practitioners actually to teach others, rather than create personal or corporate wealth
- Figure out functional management and apply it locally – this means that local business and management paradigms might create infinitely-customizable MBAs
- Trash current ideas about accreditation and start over
- Fear not new models