Management Myth #5: Well-Oiled Machine

The full title of this management myth is: “If I just do a great job, the organization will run like a well-oiled machine.”

Nothing like setting yourself up for failure, eh? Let’s unpack this myth.

First, organizations are made up of people. And, let’s assume that they all come to work wanting to do a good job. And that they’re capable of doing a good job. But things happen. Just this morning, the keyboard on my laptop stopped working. Now, there is a way to use a software keyboard and mouse-click on every letter you want to type. And I’m so patient, I can do that right? WRONG. So I spent my morning at the Apple store, where the geniuses (hey, that’s their title!) confirmed that yes, my keyboard was broken, and yes, they had one in stock, and yes, they could install it. So instead of my normal 3 hours or so of work this morning, I was lucky to use 20 minutes of useful work this morning. Things like this happen all the time. Usually to different people.

And it doesn’t have to be broken equipment. It could be a lousy commute, or the dog being sick, or a sinking feeling the milk in your cereal was not good enough to use this morning, but you did anyway. All of the things that make us human prevent us from running an organization like a well-oiled machine.

Another tip-off is that word “just.” Just is one of those lullaby words. (See Jerry’s article or the wiki discussion. In fact, Dale Emery said it very well:


… lullaby words because they draw our attention away from important information about the complexity of the situation, while simultaneously suggesting that the situation is simple.

Being a great manager is hard. I find it much easier to write code or test. (But I enjoy the management more.) If we could “just” be great managers, some messy things will still happen. So don’t expect the organization to run like a well-oiled machine. Managers deal with people, who are not deterministic systems. But with great management, you can accomplish great things.

One Reply to “Management Myth #5: Well-Oiled Machine”

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