A Business Forum Book Review:
Winnie-the-Pooh on Management
by Roger E. Allen
Screaming for time and attention, the overworked owner/manager of the smaller business is constantly deluged with announcements and synopses of Important New Books on Management. The messages invariably imply that prosperity will elude one if this Important New Book on Management is not purchased promptly and studied diligently. Each year, many of these books are simply slick and simplistic, striving to reduce the fundamentals of effective management to a few catchy slogans. Many other books are the often-ponderous research findings of professors of management in our numerous graduate schools of business administration; as one's eyelids grow heavy, these scholarly dissertations insinuate that even the operation of a lemonade stand in today's complex business environment calls for a D.B.A. [Doctor of Business Administration].
Quietly appearing on these crowded bookshelves is a wise and graceful new title, Winnie-the-Pooh on Management: In which a Very Important Bear and his friends are introduced to a Very Important Subject, by Roger E. Allen (Dutton/Penguin USA, 161 pages, $17.95). Roger Allen is an associate with Allen Associates, a management consulting firm working with both private-sector as well as public-sector clients. His faultless credentials couple strong line management experience with noteworthy consulting engagements. Perhaps most importantly, he has the rare gift of piercing the seemingly complex, making it lucid and intelligible.
With a sensitive ear for A.A. Milne, Allen recreates the world of Winnie-the-Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood. The Stranger comes to the Forest to talk with Pooh, the protagonist, "about management because it's a Very Important Subject and I think you can help me, if you will." The ensuing narrative then examines the six functions of management in an unaccustomed context allowing "us to think about them in a new way and make the basics of a manager's job clear and understandable." This is illustrated quite nimbly through the familiar adventures of Pooh and his celebrated friends -- Owl, Piglet, Rabbit, Kanga, Baby Roo, Tigger, Eeyore and, of course, Christopher Robin. Pooh's motivation to help with this task, in addition to the gifts of frequent pots of honey from the Stranger's picnic basket, is that "I might have a chance to become a Very Important Bear."
In his critique of the Expotition to discover the North Pole, the Stranger observes, "I would say that Christopher Robin was a very good leader. First, he created an air of excitement about the job that was to be done. Then he kept the objective as simple as possible so that everyone could understand what needed to be done. ... He acted as a role model -- showing by his actions how he expected others to act. He treated individuals as individuals -- with dignity and respect -- and showed he was concerned with their welfare. ... Finally, he gave credit to you [Pooh], when he could have taken it himself."
After recounting the misadventure of Pooh and his chums trying to un-Bounce Tigger, the Stranger observes, "It is very, very difficult to change someone ... In addition, even if we could, we would probably prefer the person the way he was, as your story shows."
"But if you can't change people," asked Owl, "how does the manager carry out her responsibility of developing people?"
"That's the funny thing about this function of a manager. You see, the manager really can't develop people. It just can't be done. All she can do is to provide an environment that encourages them to develop themselves."
In conclusion, Allen observes, "Having problems and difficulties is the nature of life and the reason we need excellent managers. Mastery of the six functions of the manager's job will not eliminate the problems, but it will ensure that on the journey through the Forest, there will be fewer gorsebushes and thistles along the way and ambushes will be encountered less frequently.
"Those who strive for excellence will help us all to meet the challenges the future will bring."
Winnie-the-Pooh on Management is an insightful handbook. It is a deceptively simple manual -- but not simplistic. Avoiding the pomposity and complexity of all-too-many Important New Books on Management, it illumines those things all managers need to do clearly and sensibly. The owner/manager of the smaller business will find Roger Allen and his friend, Pooh, to be helpful companions and guides as he/she tackles the everyday challenges of running a successful enterprise.
Your comments and suggestions for these pages are most welcomed!
Revised: February 11, 2002 TAF
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