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No. 1 : "Good managers don't make policy decisions" by H.E. Wrapp.

This paper was published in "Management Today" in 1967.  Wrapp identifies five skills he has observed in good general managers:

  1. He keeps open many pipelines of information. Often his involvement in detail is simply to obtain information from lower down the hierarchy.

  2. He concentrates on a limited number of significant issues.  He encourages only those proposals and actions which fit in with his overall objectives and maintains a neutral, non-committal attitude to all others.

  3. He is adept at charting the areas of comparative indifference through which he steers proposals.  He seldom challenges when a particular path is blocked.  He avoids debates on principles.  He suggests only modest alterations and is content to move his organisation in only small increments towards the goals he has set.

  4. He gives the organisation a sense of direction, while maintaining open-ended objectives.  He makes sure he is not identified with a specific set of objectives.  The statements he issues give almost no guidance to the lower levels of management - but they are usually accepted quite readily.  What subordinates see as indecision and procrastination is really the sign of a good manager at work.  Time is needed to fit pieces together.  Wrapp quotes Charles Lindholm - a good manager is opportunistic, he is a muddler with a purpose.  He has no compulsion to classify his problems.  He is characterised by a high tolerence for ambiguity.

  5. He is good at spotting opportunities and relationships in the stream of operating problems and decisions arising in the organisation.  It is difficult for him to come up with ideas which no one has put forward before - his most significant contribution is to see relationships which no one else has seen.  This is best achieved by someone with wide-ranging interests and curiosities.

Clearly, things are not what most people believe them to be in the top management world.  Top managers do not spend most of their time making broad policy decisions, formulating objectives, conceptualising long-range plans or meditating on the role of his organisation in society.

The good manager is rarely able to think objectively about the process of management which he is practising.  Any systematic explanation he gives about how he does his job is largely fictional.  Even if he understands his methods, he cannot be expected to describe them since they border on manipulation - and manipulation has a social stigma attached to it.

Thus says H. Edward Wrapp.

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The essence of Wrapp's argument is that quantifying, M.B.O. etc. are applicable to lower levels but not to top management.  Is this characteristic of top management, as reported by Wrapp, a phoney mystique required for the maintenance of power?  Is it a defence mechanism to protect managers unfit for office?  Or is it really management by hidden. objectives.  If the latter, it would be against the long-established trend to bring objectives out into the open and to arrive at them openly.  The lower levels have long since been invaded by this philosophy; is the top management, a last stronghold of playing matters close to the chest, of mystique and of amateurism - all of which would now be called bad management at the lower levels?

Wrapp's motives must also be taken into account in considering his paper.  As a manager serving on the Boards of several Corporations he would not wish to offend his top management colleagues.  Was the paper an apologia on their behalf?  At the same time he would not wish to undermine the management programs, which no doubt included M.B.O. and other manifestations of a scientific approach to management, of the Business School of which he is Dean.

Wrapp says that his paper was based on research.  He observed managers, without them realising they were being observed, while he worked in close collaboration with them.  If this were research, 'twas grievously done. Or wer't?

HVB 31/1/71