HR Management

5 Dumbest Management Concepts—Is HR One of Them?

“It’s a truism that nothing is certain in this world except death, taxes and bad management. But why?” asks author and blogger Geoffrey James. He blames five flawed management concepts that became popular in the 20th century. HR is one of them!

James is a prolific writer and observer of the business scene and is the author of seven books, including Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite. We found James’s “5 dumbest concepts” in his blog on

Dumb Concept #1: “Downsizing”

Thousands upon thousands of articles in the mainstream business press characterize CEOs as “courageous” because they instituted a downsizing, James says. Apparently, the decision to fire people is so difficult, the CEO who takes that path must be a brave and lonely soul. He’s putting the interests of the investors ahead of his own kindhearted inclinations, and making the difficult decisions that will allow the company to remain profitable, James adds.

But, wait a minute, Chester! How, exactly, did the company get into a situation where it needed to fire people in order to remain competitive? James asks. Sure, markets change like crazy in today’s world, and business conditions have become more challenging. But isn’t it the job of the CEO and the management team to predict those changes, and to staff the company appropriately? Isn’t it their job to retrain people, so that challenges can be addressed?

Here’s the truth, he says. Downsizing means that management has failed and rather than doing the right thing—which is to quit without severance—they’re passing along the penalty for that failure to the people who, in good faith, tried to execute the flawed strategy, says James.

That’s why top managers love the word “downsizing,” James explains. It makes the results of failure sound like a strategy, rather than a desperate way to remain profitable after top management has made a complete pig’s breakfast of things.

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Dumb Concept #2: “Leadership”

Peter Drucker, says James, pointed out what should be obvious to everyone—that all this talk about “leadership” is a bunch of horse manure.

James says that he can’t hear the term “leader” without thinking of the leader of a marching band. That’s the person who takes a big stick and makes it go up and down, while the band does the work of actually making the music.

Drucker’s point was that the business world doesn’t need leaders. It needs managers—people who can actually manage a team of people.

Being a manager means being in service to the team. It means giving the team credit and making everyone else successful, James says.

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Dumb Concept #3: “Human Resources”

When you talk to people who work in “Human Resources,” they pretend that they’re all about helping people to become more successful. But the truth is that the entire concept of HR is really just a way to make sure that employees don’t act uppity, James says. (!)

What better way to let people know that they’re expendable commodities than calling them “resources”? he asks. Indeed, the entire concept of HR is designed to make the process of dealing with real live people as bloodless as dealing with electricity or shipments of iron ore.

Let’s face it. Many, and probably most, HR groups are just spies and shills for management, says James. “Don’t believe me? Try taking a complaint about your manager to the HR group and see what happens.”

So, as we go forward, he says, let’s stop talking about “human resources” and start calling people what they are: people. People who have real lives and real ideas and real emotions and who, frankly, are doing work that’s often more important than that of the top executives.

What do you think, readers? Does James have a point? Let me know by choosing “Comments” below or e-mailing me at

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll get the last two of James’s “5 dumbest concepts,” and we’ll take a look at a unique program just for small, or even one-person, HR departments.

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