Management is overrated... and overpaid

In many companies, management seems to be the only way to promote. If your performance has been good enough, you are supposed to be leading a team at some point in your career. That will bring senior titles and better salaries. If you keep performing, you’ll be stepping up the corporate ladder. At some point in time (famous Peter principle), you’ll reach your incompetence level. While most companies do not adopt the famous up or out policy, they do something pretty similar: up or lose. This paradigm is based on a ridiculous assumption: that management is a higher profile activity.

Companies have managers and makers (let me simplify, please). Makers are specialised jobs that execute tasks to get stuff done. A programmer codes an application. A designer gets a logo out the door. A salesman closes a deal. Managers, on the other hand, organise stuff. They plan, they forecast, they balance resources, they take decisions (well, better said, they organise the meetings in which decisions are taken). A team leader, a middle manager and a CEO are managers.

An exceptional maker is only forged through years (like good wine). It takes years to develop the knowledge. It takes a lot of problem solving to be so decisive. A good maker’s network can be extraordinarily influencial, giving your company a valuable advantage. A great maker is differential. Her application will make the difference. His logo will capture the attention. Her deal will improve the statements.

Managers’ main purpose is to create conditions so that great makers can be forged and can contribute. They should be working for the makers, and not the other way around. Managers do have a natural influence over the team, and are entitled to give directions to the team. That gives them power, which can easily confuse people into thinking that managers are more important than makers. They are not. It is simply a different job description.

I believe an exceptional maker is more differential than an exceptional manager, and therefore is harder to replace (which should be reflected on her conditions). On the other hand, I can agree that an awful manager is more harmful than an awful maker.

Having great makers making more money than managers should be ok, but it is extraordinarily difficult for many to accept. Common arguments to get a raise like: “…but I have someone in my team with a higher salary!” should be banned. A great maker is much more valuable than an average manager.

If you only promote through management positions, you will compromise and look after a great maker by moving her to a management role. You will destroy a lot of value in the process. If your company’s culture only attribute success to management, you will confuse good young makers into thinking that they should become managers, and destroy the same amount of value in a more subtle way.

On the other hand, if your company is open to change old axioms and create a career path for specialists, and not only for managers, there is huge value to be unlocked from the competition. It will come at the expense of worse conditions for managers. I bet the trade off will work well.

There are many companies that have already realised the dynamics of managers and makers. In the tech industry, for instance, you will find programmer careers based on the proficiency of the person (also, football clubs seem to get this right too). Don’t wait too long to review and upgrade your policies, or someone else will… stealing your better makers in the process.

See you next week. Cheers.