One Man, Two Guvnors

One man, two guvnors. Not just a funny play. It’s also the situation managers are in today.

On the one hand, they are responsible for production, keeping the corporate machine running, hitting their targets for output and quality. 

On the other hand, they are responsible for their team, the people they lead.

For many years the ‘Production’ guvnor was dominant, reflecting the Taylorist approach to organisational management, the organisation is a machine and the people mere cogs in it. The focus was firmly on productivity, performance and profit.

More recently, however, the ‘People’ guvnor has demanded more attention, especially where the people are highly-talented, technically proficient employees who can easily take their labour elsewhere. The pandemic accentuated this as people needed support and care in a way that had been unnecessary before. 

This is the Humanist approach, with the focus on people, wellbeing and personal growth. Care for the people and everything else will take care of itself.

The problem is that these two Guvnors have very conflicting demands, each pulling the man(ager) in opposite directions. One is to focus on the numbers and drive predictable and measurable outcomes. The other is to focus on get people and allow positive outcomes to emerge. 

One is the task master, the other is the coach. 

So how do we square the circle? 

Well, a number strategies have emerged but they can really all be thrown in the big bucket marked ‘Culture’, which emerged in the 1980s as the universal panacea, promoted by management consultants as ever since.

The culture bucket is full of a number of silver bullets and new ones are being cast every year by academics and ‘thought leaders’. Starting with McKinsey’s ‘Shared Values’, we have seen emotional intelligence, vulnerability, having a why, giving, happiness, empathy and psychological safety bandied around as point solutions to ‘the culture problem’. 

Meanwhile, managers have become increasingly stressed as they are slowly torn in two by their two masters. Because none of the silver bullets work. Hell, you can throw the entire culture bucket at it and it won’t solve the problem.

Neither master can be ignored to allow the other to be served but they can’t both be served at the same time. So many managers flip between the two, in Jeckyll and Hyde fashion – Dr. Jeckyll to serve the ‘People’ guvnor, Mr. Hyde to serve the ‘Production’ guvnor.

This means that even in ‘good’ workplaces, when it comes near quarter- or year-end and hitting targets looms large, Dr. Jeckyll disappears and Mr. Hyde emerges for a short period. 

Is it any wonder that managers are burning out under the strain, unable to cope with the psychological pressure of this Jeckyll-and-Hyde existence?

We can’t carry on like this. We need to sack these two and find a new Guvnor. And fast.

Otherwise there’ll be no happy ending and comedy will turn to tragedy.

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