Interview with the Dean: Is Management Dead?

Loïck Roche With too much managing and not enough leading, companies lose the meaning behind their existence and forget the importance of the men and women who are the foundation on which a company's activities are built. There are ways to give management back its primary role. Loïck Roche, Dean of Grenoble Ecole de Management and president of the business school chapter of the CGE, shares with us his insights on this issue.


Last November, Loïck Roche held a conference called "Management Is Dead, Mankind Killed It" where he highlighted the incapacity of managers to defend a vision and lead. He advocates for the restoration of strong leadership and management styles that can handle the complexities of daily company challenges. The goal: to give employees back their primary source of motivation by reinstating meaning, recognition and hope in company management.

How do you define the manager's role?

Management is how we handle complexities. It's the sum of many small yet critical actions: to adjust, remind, refocus, communicate, lead, anticipate, resolve, delegate, regulate and control. It's about having a backup plan. It's about being able to teach. Before explaining how, managers must explain why. As Nietzsche would say: "If you explain why, man will figure out how." This means giving meaning to each person's actions. A leader must inspire and give a vision for the company over the next five or ten years. It's about giving recognition and providing hope for a positive future. The goal is to create mutual trust between the manager and employees, to go from "you must" to "What can I do for you?" In other words, to create a relationship that is not about hierarchy, but about team spirit and the desire to improve the well-being of employees. This is the foundation of a sustainable enterprise.

You condemn the loss of leadership that leads to organizations that are over managed and lack direction. How do you explain this problem?

There are several factors. A manager is not only an expert. Simply being successful in a specific field does not provide one with the knowledge needed to lead. This leads to managers who are promoted yet unprepared to guide their teams. So in part, it's an issue of training. Managers who are unprepared often feel alone and powerless in their responsibility to challenge, reassure and act as a team leader. In addition, there is the challenge of dealing with cultural references and confronting unions that sometimes go overboard.

There is also the issue of cowardice ─ the fear of dying. In a company, this translates to the fear of recruiting someone better than oneself. Yet being able to recruit the best talents is vital for any company to survive. Too many managers are afraid of their own incompetence. But in this case, it's fear itself that causes incompetence. Managers who are afraid will retreat into their offices, and hide behind emails, business trips and meetings. They forget the essential act of going to see and interact with the men and women who work for them. People for whom they are responsible. They neglect spending time with employees, which is one of the simplest forms of recognition. They don't take the time to explain a company's vision, strategy and values.

What can be done in operational terms to overcome this problem?

It's urgent that we finally recognize where men and women belong: at the heart of any organization. We have to understand that management is not about statements and promises. "To say, is not to do." Management is not only an intellectual understanding. We can know every management theory and still be terrible managers. To put people at the center of organizations, means to reinstate the "physical" side of management.

Managers have to trust their feelings and develop their emotional intelligence. This is what makes it possible to transform a subjective point of view into an objective position. Such a change cannot happen in a day. It's important to go step by step. And this change must be instigated by top management before being spread to all levels of an organization.

Working conditions and well-being are two key factors to achieve sustainable performance and win-win work environments. What factors can serve as a measure of good working conditions and well-being?

Working on employee well-being is a crucial part of developing a sustainable model. As Robert Owen already conceptualized over 200 years ago: first, "money spent on improving working conditions is one of the best investments any company leader may make" and second, "employee well-being can be extremely profitable all the while alleviating human suffering." In more modern speech, we speak of satisfaction, not just individual satisfaction, but the satisfaction of all employees, managers, clients, suppliers and all company stakeholders. If everybody is satisfied, that's a sign of a healthy environment. At stake is not only a company's success, but its fundamental identity and the ultimate goal of creating businesses that help improve society.