VSJ – November 2001 – Sounding Board

Peter Venton’s views on management, expressed in September’s issue, evoked a flood of responses. All of them took a contrary – and remarkably congruous – position. I’ll let Scot McSweeney-Roberts and Sebastian Rogers speak for all of them:

I fail to see how Peter Venton can make the assertion that one of the failures of British management is due to the fact that only 15% of managers are degree educated. I really have to ask,  ‘So What?’ As most university degree courses are completely unrelated to management (or the business world in general) how does a degree prove that the manager is in any way competent as a manager?

The real problem is not a lack of university degrees but the sheer lack of management training – which few university courses provide. Would having a First in, say, English Literature make one stand out as manager? Or how about all those (degree qualified) engineers who are elevated to management and fail dismally as managers as they only understand the technical issues – not the people and political issues? I have met many people who are ‘uneducated morons’ who have degrees and many people without degrees who are anything but ‘uneducated morons’ – a degree proves nothing.

The university education system is run by academics to create academics – not to create managers for real-world business. I would place far more faith in a manager who, while not degree qualified, has shown, time and again, managerial ability than I would someone whose greatest claim to fame is that they survived three years at university.
Scot McSweeney-Roberts

Peter Venton seems to equate education with obtaining the approval of those who have previously passed similar tests. One can be educated without a having degree.

As a technical architect with no ‘formal’ training beyond four hours lectures in Fortran 77, I have still designed systems with “maintenance” and “enhancement” in mind. My designs have had life spans in excess of ten years’ real-world use. Currently I am designing a major Knowledge Management system that is taking advantage of many recent technologies, XML, XSL/T and COM. It implements an n-tier hierarchy and supports multiple client platforms. We are regularly able to meet major client functionality requests, as they have been anticipated and the architecture has already allowed for them.

Like him, I became upset with ‘technically incompetent’ management. Unlike him, I became a manager. What a revelation that was. I was a lousy manager. I understood systems and programmers but not clients, the business context or company politics. I take my hat off to good managers, the few I’ve met. Their academic qualifications have no impact on their ability to do their job. Currently, the closest I have to a manager admitted that he had no real idea of how our system worked, or its capabilities. What he does have is trust that the developers and I are able to do what we say we can do.

Thus, I suspect that the most important quality between technicians and a manager is trust. I let him do his job and he lets me do mine. If I say that something has to be done for technical reasons and damn the commercial ones he listens and accommodates it into the plan. If he says something has to be done for business reasons and damn the technical ones I listen and accommodate it. We trust each other and respect each other’s different, non-academically formalised, abilities.
Sebastian Rogers
Something you’d like to get off your chest? Email me (Robin Jones) at eo@iap.org.uk.

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