Henry Mintzberg’s book “Managing” was announced as the CMI Management Book of the Year at the British Library in London on Tuesday. Mintzberg, professor of management studies at McGill University in Montreal, beat off the other 145 entries in the Practical Manager category.
The awards were launched last year by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the British Library, with the aim of helping managers choose which management books to read, and to raise the profile of management writing published or distributed in the UK.
The winners of the other two categories were Bill Lucas, for “rEvolution: How to Thrive in Crazy Times” in the Innovation & Entrepreneurship category, and Richard Donkin, for “The Future of Work”, in the Digital Book category. A full shortlist is available on the CMI website.
But will this new awards competition make more managers read management books? And what about HR professionals who have historically struggled to make time to read management literature?
Research by the CMI shows that 85% of managers claim to have read at least one management book in the past year. The CMI hopes this will increase when it promotes the shortlisted books to its 90,000 individual and 450 corporate members.
Informing the evidence base for management and leadership
The Management Book of the Year raises a lot of questions. Given that only a hugely dedicated manager could plough through every book that is published in a given year, digest versions would be helpful, with an expert giving a steer on what is genuinely innovative in the author’s thinking or research. And are the shortlisted books those that managers really need? A niche book on a particular topic might be of more practical use to a particular manager than the kind of big picture, general tomes on the shortlist. However, the competition is at least helping to inform the debate on the evidence base for management and leadership.
CMI chief executive Ruth Spellman says that Mintzberg’s winning book has an important message for HR professionals about the importance of “soft skills” in building communities in organisations. “What HR should be doing is facilitating skills development on behalf of the management,” says Spellman. “What HR people should be saying is ‘you could do better’.”
Spellman argues that HR managers should focus more on their role of facilitating line managers rather than attempting to be strategic and moving up the management hierarchy. “I don’t think that [strategy] is the issue. I think this stuff that they [HR] have always got to be on the board in companies is a massive ego-trip really.”
Understanding the perpectives of others
Spellman advises HR professionals to expand beyond their own professional networks and understand the perspective of others; finance in particular.
“The people they need to be networking with are the finance officers and CEOs. It’s making the link between the things they know and where the business is going. You need to talk the language that people will understand easily – you’ve got to find the hook. If the business is struggling you’ve got to bring that back to the company’s people. Use plain language. Nobody wants to learn about competency development – they need to help people step up to their jobs.”
So what is the central message of this year’s official top management book? Mintzberg is ranked by Wall Street Journal as the world’s “ninth most influential management thinker” (in case you are wondering, the top position goes to Gary Hamel). Although he was not there to collect his award, Mintzberg provided a video where he summarised the key themes of “Managing”.
“Companies are not collections of human resources,” said Mintzberg, “Companies must be rebuilt as communities.”
Management as a craft
His book looks at management as a craft and breaks down the management role into three fundamental planes: the action plane, the people plane and the information plane. He is concerned that too much emphasis on information and statistics is undermining the craft of management.
“It’s become so excessive on that plane that it’s become management by deeming (imposing targets on people and expecting them to perform accordingly),” he says.
His idea of rebuilding companies as individuals makes him question the emphasis currently put on leadership too. “Too much leadership hype puts too much emphasis on the individual as the be-all and end-all of the company,” he says. He argues there should be more focus on developing line managers.
Spellman’s view of why managers should read management books puts the ball right back into HR’s court.
“It is important for managers to take a wider view of their leadership styles and make use of the wealth of information available to them,” she says. “Management books provide useful answers to some of the many issues that business leaders are facing, such as how to improve employee engagement.”