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Post-hoc Management


Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership articles > Post-hoc Management

Principle | Vague objectives | Wise in hindsight | Critical benefits | See also


Although not an 'official' management theory, what can be called 'Post-hoc management' is practiced widely on a daily basis around the world and most people will instantly recognize it. It is very common in small companies where there are few formal systems and where there is a general autocratic style. It also appears in larger organizations where results take precedence over rules or where politics leads to impression management being a primary activity.


The basic principle of post-hoc management is that, as judge and jury, the manager is always right and never to blame. In this way they can remain secure in their job.

Vague objectives

The first sign of post-hoc management is a vague start to work, typically with unclear and general objectives. If the manager is asked for clarity, they will typically say something like 'you're the expert' or 'this is why we employ you', with the implication that not knowing what indicates a lack of competence on your part. This can be endemic in an organization where it happens all the way up the management tree. The edict 'Managers must manage' is a typical statement by a more senior person that essentially implies that you are on your own.

Wise in hindsight

Being right means judging others after the fact, where 20-20 hindsight allows them to conclude what should have been done. It places the manager as a wise expert who cannot be challenged. In fact the manager actually uses the respect required by their formal position as a substitute for the true respect engendered by expertise. Their seniority thus acts as a protective wall and any challenge to their expertise is reinterpreted as an attack on their rank, which they can repel with accusations of insubordination.

One way of recognizing the post-hoc manager is the phrase 'Why didn't you...' Their suggestions usually sound reasonable but do not take into account time limitations and the myriad of other things that could have been done. Most work planning includes decisions not to do a lot of things that would make sense if you had the time, but get prioritized out by the greater importance and urgency of other work.

If you are always right then others are always wrong and the post-hoc manager often bemoans how they are surrounded by fools. Yet this also makes the manager feel clever and superior, and they seldom seek to employ people who are better than them. This sometimes does happen by accident when a good person slips through the mediocre net, but the frustrations caused by post-hoc management often means that the best people quickly understand the problem and move on as soon as possible.

Critical benefits

The post-hoc manager also benefits from the 'critic effect', whereby people who criticize are seen as being more intelligent that those who propose creative solutions. The manager may be creative too, but does it in a way that protects them from blame. For example they may make various interesting suggestions as to what should be done, which puts the other person in the double bind that if they do not follow the manager's suggestions then, if things go less than perfectly the manager will blame them for not taking up the idea. If they implement the idea and it works then the manager can take most of the credit, whilst if it fails then the manager can blame them for a poor implementation or say 'It was only an idea, effectively suggesting that you are incapable of developing your own ideas.'

Whilst not an official management theory, Post-hoc management is sadly an all-too-frequent reality. It reflects the human condition and the need for control, safety and status that often take priority over values that require integrity and concern for others.

See also

Leadership vs. Management

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