Management Cardboard

Management control

Rather longer ago than I care to admit, I worked for an FMCG company.  I worked in R&D, and developed new frozen food products for a living.

There were two things we worried about:

  1. The contents – the product that customers pay for, the fish finger or ice cream.
  2. The container – the packaging that protects the content, the plastic and cardboard that keep it safe.

I spent my time trying to optimise and improve both of them.

Things haven’t changed

I still work in R&D, but I don’t work with products anymore.  Now I work in the service industry and develop processes, and operations for a living.  I look at the work organisations do and try to optimise and improve it.

There are still two parts to the job:

  1. The contents – the front line work that customers pay for, the clean hotel room or repaired car.
  2. The container – the management activity that protects the content, the polices and rules that keep it safe.

There is a stark difference

Food products are developed to a cost.  So the logic is simple, invest in the contents, make them as good as possible, but minimise the container costs.  Packaging should do the job it needs to do and nothing more.

Nobody wants to pay for cardboard.

Business operations are also developed to a cost but the approach is different.  We minimise the cost of the work content, outsourcing customer contacts and reducing customer contact time.  But we invest heavily in the container.  We develop:

  • KPI frameworks
  • Centres of excellence
  • Tiers of management
  • Balanced scorecards
  • Coordination bodies
  • Risk assessments
  • Audit policies
  • Compulsory training…

All to make sure we deliver the work content properly.

This causes a problem

All those initiatives fight with each other. Conflicting objectives add complexity and confusion. There are only so many management imperatives an organisation can cope with.

An alternative approach

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the work content, not the container it comes in?

Nobody wants to pay for management cardboard.

So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work
~ Peter Drucker

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Management Cardboard

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Image by Carol Von Canon


  1. It seems to me that much of the ‘cardboard’ that is developed or put in place is done with a combination of best intentions and to justify a management functions existence. However, the problem seems to be that most of these efforts are completely disconnected from the ‘work’.

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