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The management of poverty or the poverty of management?

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If you have never read The Spectator magazine, you should give yourself a treat. It is extraordinarily well written and often has news long before the mainstream British newspapers.

It is also very Conservative. Though timely, erudite and often very funny, it serves more to tell you what you don’t believe, than what you do. It is bit like exploring the inside of a hat, to work out what the outside looks like, and you do it, because the inside is more fun than the outside. Perverse?

Today, in an article intended, I presume, to support the Conservative leader, David Cameron, they wrote about poverty in the UK and two topical issues: the use of metrics, which Brits love to hate; and problem of immigrants who work for less than locals – an odd complaint for a Conservative party I would have thought, but nonetheless! Both these issues point to two themes that are current in contemporary Management Theory.


The article suggests what is wrong with so many metrics. A metric is a signpost. It tells you which way to go. A metric is not the destination.

There is only one destination that is acceptable in management and politics – that is the agreement and happiness of our constituents that we have arrived in the right place.

If we arrive in a place and they decide they don’t like it, we can’t make the argument that we followed the metrics. It just doesn’t wash!

Pick some metrics that guide your leadership. Don’t make metrics the substitute of leadership !

To the issue of poverty and politics in the UK: don’t ask Gordon Brown the numbers about poverty.  Ask him, are you happy about poverty? He blusters and says yes. Ask him, are you interested in my views on poverty – are you going to ask why I asked? He asks! You tell him.

Give him the problem you wanted solvand come back next week and tell him how well it has been solved!

Where do metrics fit in? When it is your job to supervise ‘leaders’ like teachers, nurses and police officers, ask them what metrics or signals will help them achieve satisfaction with their leadership. Don’t impose the metric though. When you do, you do not improve leadership, you do the opposite. You relieve them of the responsibility of their actions beyond that metric!

Just hold the conversation about what we want to achieve and how we are going to achieve it! That’s all!


The second story was about a Scottish joiner whose job is now done by a Pole at 6 pounds an hour. Apparently the joiner’s wife stood up and asked Cameron what he was going to do about it! Exactly what I recommend. He took the job as leader, give him the problem. His answer – ban Poles!


Couldn’t he have said: Here is my aide. Call him/her and make an appointment – we will work this out.

To the aide, he says: find me the smartest MBA student on our books.  Ask him/her to give me a briefing in a week.  I want to know about all and every industry that uses joining as a skill.   Could s/he also social-network other students to brainstorm any and every industry who can possibly use joining to advantage?  And give me a list of the top ten business people in the UK who might use joiners.

And then meet the joiner, find out what he really wants, with the MBA student on hand, and work out who should be meeting with each other to use this skill, and joining is a skill, that is obviously not being used.

Get the right people together and ask them to produce a business plan for how the joiner is going to use his skill to make lots of money (and lots of taxes).

And ask them to report back to him in a week.

Who is betting the answer would include “more Poles please” and a air ticket for the Scottish joiner to nip over to Poland to do the recruiting with his wife in tow to explain the Scottish school system (she is a school teacher by all accounts).

People don’t ask politicians questions (or managers for that matter) as a prompt to blame someone else. They want a solution.

They want positive ideas based on our skills, passions, interests, wants, hopes and dreams. This is leadership.


Managers are struggling with contemporary ideas about human capital.

In addition to money being capital, in addition to land being capital, we are capital.

Our hopes and dreams, our sense of entitlement (!): this is our capital.

Businesses of the 21st century will be built around who we are and what we want to be.  That is the challenge of management and leadership.

Building our lives around us.  Positively.  Cheerfully.  Collectively.

Cheers to The Spectator.

Published in Business & Communities


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