DSK and MBO
The Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal has, as the New York Times put it, “reshaped the French political landscape and prompted debate about morals, the treatment of women and the American justice system.” But it has also raised another issue: How well managed is the Manhattan D.A.’s office?
With the prosecution’s sexual-assault case against the former International Monetary Fund chief apparently crumbling because of the credibility of the alleged victim, some have started to question the practices of District Attorney Cyrus M. Vance Jr.
To be sure, Vance has his defenders. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, backed the D.A.’s decision to move quickly to seek an indictment in the Strauss-Kahn case. “If the allegations were true, are true, he had a legitimate worry about somebody fleeing this country,” the mayor said. “So, he didn’t have much choice but to rush to do something.”
But others have suggested that Vance’s management practices may have undermined things. “Some of the most pointed complaints about Mr. Vance,” the Times reported, “are emanating from the district attorney’s office itself.” Among the concerns are that Vance has taken away some of the authority of midlevel prosecutors—a tendency that “contributed to the difficulties in the case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn,” the Times asserted. The newspaper noted that Vance “made no apologies for exerting more control over” those in his office. “To be frank,” Vance said, “some discretion may have been taken away from them,” explaining that “closer monitoring was important” to ensure fairness.
While we aren’t in position to evaluate whether Vance’s top-down style was really a factor in the Strauss-Kahn case, there is little doubt that the D.A.’s general approach would have raised an eyebrow from Peter Drucker. From the time he laid out the concept of Management by Objectives in his 1954 landmark The Practice of Management, Drucker preached the need to push responsibility and freedom for setting and meeting goals as far down into the organization as possible. “Mutual understanding can never be attained by ‘communications down,’” Drucker wrote. “It can result only from ‘communications up.’”
“Knowledge workers are not subordinates; they are ‘associates,’” Drucker later added. “For, once beyond the apprentice stage, knowledge workers must know more about their job than their boss does—or else they are no good at all.”
What about you? Do you know more about your job than your boss does—and, if so, what are the organizational implications of that?