Which God Rules Your Office?


The Changing Work of Organizations

By Charles Handy

Oxford 254pp $27.50

If you secretly believe that personality traits are governed by the fates, you'll love Gods of Management. Charles Handy's 1978 book, now published in the U.S. for the first time, classifies organizations into four types and assigns a Greek god to describe how each one works. Zeus companies are old-boy networks headed by charismatic leaders. Apollo organizations are the gray-flannel-suit variety, in which dutiful employees work according to fixed routines. Athena is the goddess of problem-solving, teams, and task forces, and Dionysus rules the private professionals--lawyers, doctors, or artists whose principal loyalty is to themselves and who organize only when they must.

Handy, management guru and author of The Age of Unreason, argues that managers get into trouble when they try to impose the culture of one god in an organization built to worship another. For example, Athenian creativity will languish in an Apollonian environment of strictly enforced roles. This is obvious enough, but in the second half of Gods, Handy takes the lesson a step further. He predicts that new technologies and the rise of individualism will make Apollonian, big-company conformity obsolete. Smaller, more autonomous "villages" or networks will replace business behemoths. Dionysians and Athenians will get their day in the sun.

Unfortunately, Handy doesn't know much about ancient Greece or its deities. The idea that Dionysians dislike authority is hilarious when you recall that in the best Bacchic stories, the god's wine-crazed followers will do anything to please their lord, including killing their children. And it is hard to see the head of a white-shoe investment bank in randy, temperamental Zeus. Despite the poor scholarship, though, Gods is a prescient caveat, written some 15 years before "change engineers" said that sticking to an organization chart can do more harm than good.

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