Management by Values

Steve Jobs, as collected in Make Something Great:

There’s a lot of management techniques. I’m sure you study a lot of management techniques. When I was younger, it was management by objective. It’s all a crock. They’re all after-the-fact management techniques: “You’ve failed, and I know that because we are going out of business tomorrow.” All after the fact. “You’ve ruined this department; all the good people have left. So now I’m firing you.” “You’ve accomplished none of your objectives.” It doesn’t work.

And a really smart guy I met a long time ago who used to teach at Disney University—Walt Disney recruited him to run Disney University, actually—he told me about his point of view, which I’ve remembered to this day. He called it management by values. What that means is you find people that want the same things you want, and then just get the hell out of their way.

The way I describe it is, let’s say we’re all going to take a trip together. The first thing is to figure out where we all want to go. The worst thing is if we all decide we want to go to different places. You can never manage it. [Pointing] You want to go to New Orleans. You want to go somewhere else. I want to go to San Francisco. You want to go to San Diego.

It doesn’t work. Right?

But if we all want to go to San Diego, that’s the key. Then we can argue about how to get there. [Pointing] You think it’s better to walk. You think it’s better to take a plane. You think it’s better to take a train. We’ll figure that [part] out. Because if I say, “I want to take a train to San Diego,” and somebody goes, “That’s really stupid! It will take three days! We can fly and be there in an hour,” I’ll go, “Oh. OK.” Because, actually, I want to go to San Diego. So if I can get there in an hour [flying], I’ll ditch my idea about the train.

That’s what management by values is. It’s finding people with passion that want to go to San Diego—who want to go to the same place you want to go to! Right? That’s the key.

When I think about culture as it pertains to medicine, and how large institutions falter, academic departments implode, and even smaller groups struggle, I think so much of it boils down to this:

There is no management technique to consistently make a group of people want to go to the same place after the fact.

Many management techniques and leadership styles can spoil a great enterprise, but perhaps none can craft one from an unformed mass of individuals, especially not the model of the business suit directing an army of practitioners.

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