The Fast Subject - Management and Leadership

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‘The Fast Subject’ is a concept that many managers struggle to really get their head round. Chosen as one of the best in class, I’m proud to publish this fine example of a leadership essay from one of the top universities in the UK.

How the concept ‘fast subject’ (Thrift, 2000) embodies the idealised cultural image of success for management in the 21st century.

Thrift’s (2000) paper portrays a very distinct idea of the modern Western world; both as a whole and the world of work. It is key to remember that management feeds from the wider cultural environment – the world; it is not standing alone by itself. We need to know what is going on in the world to see what is going on in management, for example, assessment centres could be seen as the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ of the world of work. Thrift also describes the ‘fast subject’, i.e. the manager that is capable of functioning effectively in this world; the author uses language such as “knowledge”, “creativity”, “innovation” and “younger” in relation to the fast subject and “faster”, “uncertain”, “performance” to describe the habitat of this modern subject. When discussing the fast subject, it is important not to overlook the environment in which the subject lives/works; it had been argued that managers are “the products of (increasingly engineered) circumstance” (Thrift, 2000 p. 677).

The ideal of the ‘fast subject’ embodies success in modern Western culture, according to Thrift’s (2000 p.678) paper, “the fast subject is a ‘style’ that many managers often want to attain”; advertisements for graduate careers and jobs have specific ideals so people aspire to meet the criteria. These job adverts are made by people like us for us; fast subject to fast subject. The advertisements speak to us, these people that companies are looking for are management’s idea of success, so this is what we strive for, this is the reason we go to university and get part time jobs and internships – it’s the ideal of work (and life) in the future.

The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers guide is the perfect collection of evidence of the idealised cultural image of success for management in the 21st century; the companies and jobs are portrayed using the language of the fast subject, they give the idea of mobility, youth, being trendy and modern. The three following examples have been taken from this guide.

The first example, taken from The Times guide is Lidl’s (p. 30) Graduate Management Programme advertisement. This advertisement uses all the language and buzz words of the ‘fast subject’ and 21st century culture, such as “star qualities”, “lead and inspire” and “world-class”. Thrift (2000 p. 680) makes the point that management events are “making the ‘invisible visible’” i.e. trying to measure and teach these intangible “star qualities” such as leadership and creativity. This gives the idea that these personality traits that make up a successful person can be taken on by a company, measured and nurtured, and will enable continued or increased success. This is attractive to the ‘fast subject’ because of the intangibility; other people in the world do not possess these qualities, only the elite ideal that management has created has the potential to have these traits inside of them. The fact they cannot be defined, taught of learned as well as simple things such as how to work a piece of machinery makes them special and anything that sets you above others in our culture is something we have been brought up to strive towards.

It is clear that quite a significant amount of thought goes into graduate recruitment, as management want to get the best people into their company and at the moment, the ‘fast subject’ is that person, and they respond to specific known language and images. Graduates are the future of management and at the minute the people coming out of universities are educated to be the way management wants them to be, i.e. Thrift’s subject. They have the most current and up-to-date...
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