Discover more from D'Artagnan Journal
Train Wreck Management: Celebrating 180 Years of Command-and-Control Business Management
Happy 180th Birthday, Train Wreck Management! Yesterday, October 5, 1841 marked the birth of business bureaucracy when two passenger trains…
Happy 180th Birthday, Train Wreck Management! Yesterday, October 5, 1841 marked the birth of business bureaucracy when two passenger trains collided on the Western Railway, killing 2 and injuring 17.
The railroad appointed Major George W. Whistler (whose wife, Anna, would famously go on to pose for “Whistler’s Mother”) to lead the investigation.
Borrowing ideas from the Prussian Army, Whistler’s committee recommended: the first top-down business org chart, central offices staffed by “managers” (using that term in business for the first time), chains of command, lines of reporting, and job descriptions.
A prime directive was to identify “derelictions of duty” — in other words, to fix blame when things went wrong.
For the most part, we still have Train Wreck Management in place today (thanks to the late Peter R. Scholtes and his book The Leader’s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done 1st Edition for the history).
Questions for contemporary business leaders…
1) How well is Train Wreck Management working for your business — are things great?
2) Does your org structure support high levels of engagement and retention?
3) Does your org structure elevate overall business performance?
4) What is the return on management for your bureaucracy?
5) Are people in your org doing work they’d rather not do that could be better done by others?
6) Does your org structure support fast, flexible adaptivity to changes in markets, technology, and black swans (like pandemics)?
7) Does your org structure support lofty team performance and collaboration?
8) Do people in your org have a say in decisions that affect them?
9) Is decision making distributed throughout your organization so that the best-informed and best-equipped people make decisions?
10) Are people in your org free to lead and innovate when opportunities arise?
11) Does your org designate certain individuals with position power and unilateral authority over others?
12) Is your org structure great at supporting remote work, return to work and hybrid work?
13) Do people in your org structure care more about pleasing bosses than pleasing customers?
14) Does your org structure make playing politics obsolete because everyone always has a fair shot at advancement?
15) Are there better ways of working in a modern economy (where information moves at 800 MBytes/sec rather than a few characters/sec via telegraph) than relying on systems and structures derived from the Prussian Army of 1841?