Generic vs Specific Management Frameworks

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A management framework identifies an opportunity or problem in the coordination of people within a single, or across organizations, and proposes (i) how to think about that opportunity/problem, (ii) how to identify its instances, and (iii) what to do – how to change the organization – in order to address it.

It is useful to distinguish generic from specific management frameworks; a generic one is not specific to a single organization (or a group of identified organizations), while a specific one is.

Here are two well known examples of generic ones:

Kaplan & Norton’s Balanced Scorecard is concerned with the problem of broadening the range of decision criteria across an organization, and specifically, it tries to reduce the focus on financial criteria. It suggests that optimizing for financial criteria disregards others which affect the ability of the business to generate value sustainably, such as the perspective (or expectations) of customers, the importance of improving internal processes, and the ability to innovate. It suggests to identify organization-specific criteria over the four categories, and measure expected and actual outcomes over these criteria.

Porter’s firm-level value chain framework is concerned with the problem of understanding why and how the business generates its margin, or what inside the business determines its margin (at least part of it, in case external factors influence it most). It suggests to think about all internal activities as split into supporting ones and primary ones, the latter having the most important influence on the ability to generate ideally above-average margins (within, roughly speaking, an industry; or better, among competitors). It recommends focusing on improving primary activities.

When a management framework is generic, it comes with claims that it applies across types of organizations, industries, markets, and other many parameters or dimensions which highlight differences between organizations. Both the Balanced Scorecard and Value Chain are generic, as are many others – the resource-based view, the five forces, and so on.

What if you want to make them work in a specific organization?

If these frameworks are generic, then this begs the question of how they are different from a specific management framework, one which is used within one organization, or if it crosses over others, is still specific to that network.

A specific management framework needs to satisfy harder requirements than a global one.

The specific framework must be proven relevant in the context of the organization which uses it.

Relevance here means that people who use the framework make different decisions than in absence of the framework, and they actually perceive and report that the framework makes the difference – these reports may well be vague, since they inevitably involve what-if speculations.

It needs to be clear who should apply it, how they should do so, what resources they will use, what outcomes they are expected to produce, how to measure progress in the use of the framework, and how to improve one’s use of the framework, and/or the framework itself.

From personal experience, a local framework can be complicated, having to have many parts which all need to be carefully designed.

The specific framework should be connected to the organization – in terms of roles, responsibilities, authority, lines of reporting, and so on. Its design should be explained so that people can be trained in it. Its effects must be measurable, so that we can show which kind of value, and how much of it, it is generating; otherwise, it will not be used/adopted.

What goes into a local management framework? How to design and roll it out? More on these in future posts.