Stick to the rules, or it might go on too long

My daughter got a monopoly set for her birthday. She’s only seven, and already learning about the importance of greed and the pursuit of wealth. I guess they should have a new post-2008 Monopoly where the property is worth nothing and the bank charges you an administration fee when you pass Go.

The instructions specifically counsel against making up your own rules. It clearly states: “Stick to the rules” (“otherwise”, it explains, “the game can go on for too long”). The expectation that people will stick to the rules is another lesson that mightn’t translate all that well into the real-life world of business where the direction of travel seems to be toward Ayn-Rand’s objective selfish individualism.

I am sounding cynical.

I’m sorry, but I am a little … but I’m also hopeful that work can be a positive experience, and a lot of this is down to the people around us.

People at work

This wasn’t always the case. I was very cynical about the business when I was younger, assuming everyone who played the game was a phony.

I eschewed the idea of doing Business Studies at University, turned my nose up at an MBA, hated wearing suits and ties, dressed like a scruffbag who made his way to work backward via a series of hedges, and ignored behavioural workplace training as being all about fakery not substance.

It’s normal for young people to be anti-society, and I had my idealistic anti-corporate phase when I believed that I was different and I was going to change the world. How wrong I was, nowadays I can barely even influence what goes on in my own house, but that’s another story.

Anyway, my dislike of all things business was based partly on a narrow understanding of what it actually was.

I believed that it was necessarily unethical. I thought that business had the sole external objective of maximizing financial return on its capital, and the internal objective of protecting the vested interests of its hierarchy. I wanted to work somewhere that had an external objective I could believe in, and an internal culture that was about maximizing the potential of each unique individual who worked there.

I still do.

Can a real business deliver this? I’m skeptical.

But I’m also an optimist, perhaps a little bit too optimistic, but I believe that a workplace needn’t be a place where all the negatives accumulate, it can be a place fit for humans, a fulfilling part of life, not just a distraction we do because we need to pay the bills.

So I’m cynical and skeptical, and don’t like the game of Monopoly anyway, but I’m also optimistic and hopeful. Business is made of real people, most of whom have good intentions, so surely there’s a chance that we could create truly great workplaces that allow us to soar?

I’m tempted to write a list of criteria now, ideally with a humourous acronym, but I’m not going to do that*, I’m going to be less predictable and focus on the one thing that jumped out to me as fundamental but rarely discussed in this context: the role of management.

The role of management

I don’t mean to go into detail about what it means to be a great manager, that’s a huge topic, I only mean to draw attention to the absolutely vital role that managers play in the workplace experience. The difference they can make to the individual, their career and the productivity of their team is monumental, yet management is often sidelined for the more glamorous and exciting fields of “leadership”† and “talent”‡.

A topic for another post: the role of management in the creation of great workplaces.

I wonder if it would make a good board game?



* I tried, but it just sounded so obvious and corny, and by the time I’d crow-barred all the points to fit in with the acronym, it was barely comprehensible. I was left with trying to make “the role of management” start with an N, for example.

† Leadership and management were rightly separated into two distinct fields quite some time ago. Since then, leadership has dominated the thinking of most business academics, and management has been sidelined, thought of as procedural and dull. Nonsense. They may be two different disciplines, but I’d argue that great managers are also good leaders, and, although may be less so, often great leaders are also good managers.

‡ Talent is hugely important, but I have a problem with this view, which I’ll go into in a separate post because it’s too long for even on my footnotes.

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