Gods of Management

I’ve previously written about Charles Handy’s cultural models (see here) but omitted to reference the Greek gods that he attributed to them.

If we only give the idea passing thought and move on as before, then there’s little point in doing so.  However, if we actually want to apply the ideas in order to bring about increased efficiency and effectiveness, then the names become a useful shorthand to gain a deeper understanding.

The four gods are Zeus, Apollo, Athena and Dionysus:

Zeus: the chief god and one who represents the Power Culture, and those who inhabit it.  This is where the main power rests with an individual, directing a team (or an entire organisation), by virtue of his or her personality.  Where we’re considering the whole organisation, he/she is probably, though not exclusively, the owner.  There is limited need for a library of documented procedures; policies may or may not be written down, but they’re understood by all members – either directly or by knowledge that they refer to Zeus for guidance.  This is a very efficient approach for small organisations, especially in a fast changing environment.

Apollo: the god of the role based, machine bureaucracy.  This where the highly documented, regularly audited, management system rules.  The focus is on how work is performed and can matter little who does it, providing it’s in their job description – you do what is required of you role – no more, no less.  It works well for a mass-production line where repetitive tasks predominate.  Individuals are happy to do as they are instructed in order to receive due reward; initiative and individuality has limited opportunity to shine.

Athena: where teamwork predominates, where team members work together to meet a commonly agreed goal, there we find Athena.  Again, it doesn’t matter who does a particular job but, unlike Apollo, Athena isn’t interested in defining roles and job descriptions – if a task needs doing then somebody does it.  How it’s done is far less important that getting the right output; if documented procedures exist they’re only there to describe how things might be done.  Procedures do not dictate and auditing for compliance serves only to annoy; if audits are needed the focus should be on the outputs and outcomes – only if these are not what is required do we dig into the methods.  Project and problem-solving teams need to be populated, in the main, by Athenians.  We might need the occasional Apollonian for routine administration, such as accounts and budget management, but that culture is anathema to the core.

Dionysus: this is the realm of the individual, the professional who is in charge of his or her own destiny (at least, insofar as their work is concerned).  A Dionysian organisation is where a team of professionals work together – together, at least, in that they share a common organisation.  They might cooperate for some tasks but they may regularly be on their own.  If there is any control over how they work it will predominately be by their professional body.  A classic example is a GP practice where a team of GP’s come together, with practice nurses and associated professionals, to share administrative resources.  The practice “manager” is an administrator whose authority is delegated by the doctors – unlike an organisation where the title “manager” indicates authority by position.

Except in the smallest of organisations, we should expect to see a mix of these four gods.  The skilled leader recognises the differences and applies corresponding approaches to managing each.  The one-size-fits-all approach of an overarching management system might look like it’s working but rarely will it be as efficient or effective as it should.  It will probably suit Apollo, and may be acceptable to Zeus sitting in the executive suit, but Athena and Dionysus will be fighting it.

That’s the merest introduction – I recommend anyone wanting to explore this further to start by reading Charles Handy’s book Gods of Management.


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