PhD Progress & Thoughts

QuitLit: Management

QuitLit gives me a huge sense of satisfaction. After years of working an unsatisfying, minimum-wage job in a scummy workplace because I had no other choice, the act of defiantly leaving a situation that displeases me is one of my greatest pleasures.

I wrote one for the time I left that awful fast-food job. I wrote one when I told an abusive sandwich-store manager to shove it. I wrote a fantasy letter to an organisation who engaged in the illegal practice of forcing an unpaid intern (me) to perform work which would normally be reimbursed.

And, today, I’m writing one for my departure from Management Academia.

“You’re Fired.”

My last act as a management researcher was to fire my supervisors. It was an entertaining exercise in HR practice. How to write a letter of termination to academics who are supposedly well-versed in meaningless management jargon? ‘It’s not me, it’s you’ is too blunt, but ‘we need to part ways’ is too disingenuous. I took time to craft the ‘perfect’ goodbye email, ensuring minimal backlash from the inevitable disappointment that my ineffective supervisors were likely to experience.

In the past I was quite happy with their conduct but it quickly became apparent that this was due to the physical distance, and not their competency as supervisory staff. At their hands I experienced gas-lighting, emotional abuse, abuse of power, and a lack of communication edging on professional neglect. Within weeks they had derailed my thesis progression, cut off future opportunities for my professional development, and had just been an unnecessarily cruel for no discernible reason. Perhaps it was their insecurities coming out in full bloom, and perhaps close proximity allowed me to uncover things which I had suspected all along.

It was time for them to go.

But, at the same time, it was also time for me to go. Since my discovery of numerous research articles, media think-pieces and anecdotal comments concerning management incompetence in healthcare I had been on the fence about my continued participation. Was I in a position to change the reputation of hospital management from within? Did I have the resources to make a meaningful change? Could the industry change?

After attempting to interact at a professional and theoretical level I decided that, perhaps, some things are beyond saving. I alone cannot change the skill level of an entire industry! More to the point, I wouldn’t be able to move past the management industry’s lack of capacity while remaining exclusively within a management field.

So, I quit management.

This may not be a permanent resignation as I still intend to ensure that my research has immediate practical applications. This will necessitate me finding a job in the field at some point in the near future – and due to my imminent qualifications that job may well be hospital management. I am resolved, however, to ensure that I display a professional ‘gold standard’ of practice. If I ever do re-enter the management industry as a practitioner I will not be held to the same standard as those who are the subject of the litany of complaints I’ve read.

Why?

In a nutshell the findings of hospital management literature are consistent – clinicians hate management. Even outside hospital management, workers in general tend to have a strong distaste for HR. The majority of complaints originate from issues such as ‘they don’t know what they’re doing’ to ‘their strategies are inappropriate, and obviously so’. The field of HR and management in general tends to have a systemic lack of education and training, which ironically has damaged the industry’s reputation somewhat beyond repair.

As someone who is constantly on the search for excellence, and ‘a better way’, it simply isn’t good enough to be associated with an industry that is constantly blasted for incompetence. I demand better, and so that is what I shall get. Despite my registration with the Australian Human Resources Institute (I’m still a sucker for post-nominal letters, and I have a degree in the field, after all) I have jumped ship and am aiming to land in the industry of Public Health Administration and Policy. While the move will require an element of cross-training and education it certainly isn’t beyond my capacity.

Yet, moving industries was entirely my choice. I could have chosen to retain management-based supervisors and added in Public Health supervision for exposure. My efforts didn’t require the complete shift – so why did I bother?

I bothered because of a simple branding issue. When I arrive in a hospital and clinicians ask me ‘what are you, exactly?’ I need a clear answer. Clinicians, operating within strict hierarchies dictated by experience and qualification, require clear boundaries and labels for professionals to ascertain their usefulness. In the past I attempted my rebranding by saying that I was a ‘Governance Researcher’, which got more frowns and confused expressions than anything else. Governance, while not explicitly HR, was still too closely related to be deniably distinct. My explanation of ‘what Governance is’ inevitably came back to ‘management, but at the hospital level’, which more or less dismantled the purpose of the re-brand.

The move out of management entirely allows for the re-brand process to be complete. Instead of trying to tweak ‘management and HR’ into Governance, I can now say that I’m not a management researcher at all, but a researcher in the field of Public Administration and Healthcare. This, it seems, is clearer to the average clinician. The response to this shift has already been incredibly positive as hospital employees appear to have more productive interactions with Public Administration than HR in daily practice. Clinicians are now naturally engaging with me more readily, and don’t appear to reserve the same hesitations that they did when they perceived me as a management scholar. I’m still the same researcher – but now I come with a shiny new label.

The Issue of Applicability

Recent research has proven what I’ve suspected for a long time; that management research never makes it into practice. Research simply isn’t accessible to the average manager, who rarely completes education past a High School or TAFE certification course, and doesn’t have the funds (or desire) to subscribe to expensive and dryly-worded journals.

This issue was a large motivator for my desire to not become a full-time academic. What is the point of working hard to research phenomena if its eventual output is meaningless except to theoretical contributions? I wanted more relevance, and greater applicability. Thankfully the field of Public Administration rarely experiences this shortcoming due to actively working with stakeholders and government policy writers. The opportunity to have my work immediately read and included in meaningful documents, freely accessible to all who want them, was simply too good to miss.

As if the God of Research Outcomes watched my move, I was immediately gratified in my decision. I was contacted by a clinician less than three hours after my paperwork had been filed for the change – to tell me that the moment my research was complete, it was going to be implemented in the same context it was conducted.

I could have cried.

It was precisely what researchers dream of – a direct research-to-outcomes link as a result of my work and time investment. It only strengthened my resolve that quitting management was the right move. The field of management research without application is irrelevant to reality, and now I’ve had a taste of relevance I’m never looking back.

So, here’s to the academics who sit in their rooms and never contact management professionals about their work. Here’s to professors in the field of performance management who have never completed a single performance appraisal themselves. Here’s to the supervisors who told me that my work wasn’t good enough. Here’s to everyone who squinted at me when I told them I was a management researcher, and here’s to researchers who don’t care about the application of their findings.

Farewell, I won’t miss you in the slightest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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