THE MORAL CHARACTER OF MANAGEMENT PRACTICE
Department of Accounting and Business Finance,
University of Manchester
Among the central moral fictions of the age we have to place the peculiarly managerial fiction embodied in the claim to possess systematic effectiveness in controlling certain aspects of social reality. And this thesis may at first sight seem surprising for two quite different kinds of reason; we are not accustomed to doubt the effectiveness of managers in achieving what they set out to achieve and we are equally unaccustomed to think of effectiveness as a distinctively moral concept, . . .
Managers themselves and most writers about management conceive of themselves as morally neutral characters whose skills enable them to devise the most efficient means of achieving whatever end is proposed.
Whether a given manager is effective or not is on the dominant view quite a different question from that ofthe morality ofthe ends which his effectiveness serves or fails to serve. None the less there are strong grounds for refuting the claim that effectiveness is a morally neutral value. For the whole concept of effectiveness is inseparable from a mode of human existence in which the contrivance of means is in central part the manipulation of human beings into compliant patterns of behaviour; and it is by appeal to his own effectiveness in this respect that the manager claims authority within the manipulative mode (Macintyre,
1981, p. 71).
I HAVE begun with this rather lengthy quote from Macintyre because this particular passage usefully summarizes the themes that I wish to explore in the context of this paper. There is his observation that most managers and writers on management view the pursuit of managerial effectiveness as a morally neutral value. Thus for me there arises a certain discomfort even from the act of putting the two words moral and management together in the same phrase. The words seem to belong to different spheres of practice;
'morality' belonging perhaps to the private sphere of our lives — to the realm of our immediate personal relationships, 'management' to the realm of public affairs. Of course managers can and do seek to morally justify themselves and their actions but usually such justification is solely in terms of the ends
Address for reprints: Dr. J. Roberts, Department of Accounting and Business Finance, University of Manchester, Manchester M l 3 9PL.
their activity serves. Thus typically it is the pursuit of the survival and growth of the 'organization as a whole' that for most managers is the assumed moral basis of their action and that provides them with a blanket justification for a whole variety of practices. However, their immediate practices are judged not by reference to moral standards or criteria but merely in terms of the effectiveness with which they secure these ends. It is in this way that moral concerns are severed or bracketed off from the pursuit of managerial effectiveness. It is in this way that management practice comes to be seen as a purely technical activity involving the rational pursuit of the most efficient means for securing given ends.
In opposition to such a neutral, technical view of management practice
Macintyre asserts that the purusit of effectiveness cannot but fail to involve moral issues for, in large part, the effectiveness of a manager's day to day practice depends upon his or her ability to manipulate other human beings into compliant modes of behaviour. In this manipulation social science is deeply implicated for frequently it offers itself as a body of predictive knowledge of 'human nature' which can be employed by managers in the form of a set of techniques with which to enhance the effectiveness of their manipulation of staff. Increasingly, it is precisely in terms of their possession of such social scientific knowledge that individuals lay