Book review: Management Matters, by Philip Delves Broughton

By on August 28, 2013

The author has served up a useful guide to being the boss, but lacks a big theme to tie it all together, says Stefan Stern.

Management is a slippery subject. So while it might be tempting to place your faith in that garishly designed airport paperback that promises to reveal ‘the five things every manager has to do’, the chances are it won’t be of much use to you. The book will contain a few (perhaps exaggerated) success stories, which is to say post hoc rationalisations. Luck, the weakness of competition or regulation and long-term trends may all lie behind the ‘management triumphs’ contained within.

Fortunately, Philip Delves Broughton is too wise to fall into this trap. He knows managers operate in a range of settings. As a seasoned hack, his scepticism is not in doubt and he has already proved his credentials by writing warily about his time studying for an MBA (What They Teach You at Harvard Business School, Portfolio Penguin).

His new book spares us simplistic ‘solutions’. It draws on some of his journalism, dusts off his business school notes, and packages it all together in just over 200 pages.

The book’s subtitle promises us material that is ‘humdrum’ and ‘big’. It delivers on both. That’s management for you: it is both grand and small, long term and everyday, sublime and, occasionally, ridiculous.

So at one moment we are given some advice on our sleeping habits: ‘It may seem personally intrusive for a management book to recommend getting more sleep, and yet it is hard to imagine a manager doing his best if constantly frazzled.’ The next, we are offered a theoretical discussion on strategy: ‘A collective term for the complex set of interactions which create the gap between a company’s costs and its customers’ willingness to pay.’

Delves Broughton is at his best when he provides simple definitions of the core tasks managers have to carry out. ‘Ideally, a boss should be someone who provides clear expectations, gives you the tools to do your best work, and responds fairly to your successes and failures,’ he writes. ‘Every employee is entitled to hold their boss to this standard.’ That’s good. But, inevitably, some management jargon forces its way into the text as well: ‘It is fashionable to talk of the need to secure employee “buy-in” to management.’

Book: Management Matters: From the humdrum to the big decisions

Author: Philip Delves Broughton

Publisher: Pearson Books


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