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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Improving Management Performance

Quality of management is the prime mover of success in enterprise. It does not in my belief, matter whether the management's accent is Japanese or American, or German, or French, or British, or whatever good management is good management. High-performing world winners come from all over the globe. Of course, there are national influences that condition the people's attitude to enterprise,cultural, historical, geographical-these explain agreat deal but do not explain the fact that good managers everywhere overcome these to produceresults, and often seem to have more in common withone another than the contrast between the countrieswould suggest.

No wonder, therefore, that we have become obsessed with anatomising excellence. What are the common denominators of success? We lust after its secrets.We make out checklists of the desirable features ofthe competition some successful companies even drewup checklists of themselves a sort of laundry listof clean linen to be washed in public.

Management is currently heavily-breathing, heavily engaged in either checking-up on such lists ordrawing-up lists of their own. I find these lists fascinating in three ways. First, we expect too much of them. Such lists are not always useless, but, at best, they are always only sign-posts. They do not go anywhere. Something else must move management to act.

And, anyway, what list can cover the 360 variety ofbusiness situations: for instance the once-sound, mature business in need of a shake up, or even arescuing turn-round is different from the(embryonic) start-up of a venture; the organizationof a competitive public enterprise or, an essentialpublic service is different from a multinationalcorporation which can decide to change the formula of a cosmically competitive drink- just like that. It was Solon, the constitution maker in ancient Greece, who when asked to draft a constitution,would nail the question by asking specifically, "Aconstitution for what?"

The second fascination of checklists for me is that they are always a bit of a shock. Their obviousnessis mildly shocking. And there is nothing wrong withobviousness: a litany of home-truths is arguably what we managers need. Actually, managers know wellenough what makes for quality and for money's worth,for success and for failure. Good management is not a bag of tricks, or of secrets, or of surprises . Good management in enterprise is such stuff asplatitudes are made of. Certainly, the litanies are what the manager is getting these days, and, if the market speaks truth, it seems to be what he and she likes.

For example,"In Search of Excellence", by Peters and Waterman,is a record breaking best seller. It explores agalaxy of international business and brings management back to earth with good, old home-truths.Belief is what makes things happen, belief in thebusiness, and that springs from keeping faith withthe customer. "In Search of Excellence" is born-again Samuel Smiles, racier and wittier, morefun but basically the one same clear message; thesecret of success is professional skill committed toa belief in the job and in the mission of theenterprise. This emphasises the third and most significantaspect of the best of current checklist; their recognition of management being as much a test ofcharacter as it is of professional technique.

This welcome emphasis emerges most clearly in anothercurrent and readable best-seller; "The Art of Japanese Management", by Pascale and Athos, who werein fact close with the ex- McKinsey team of Petersand Waterman. Pascale and Athos set off on their ownsuper-star-trek of international success inmanagement (not only Japanese, incidentally). Their formula is presented brilliantly as well. Their anatomy of success fairly hisses with S's, somehard, some soft. The hard S's are strategy, structure, and systems of management: the soft S'sare specified skills, style, staff, andsuperordinate goals. ("We chose alliteration", they say, "on the theory a little vulgarity enhancesmemory." Vulgarity-surely not. Blimey, I can't believe any well-brought up manager will dare dropany S in the blinding future) Athos and Pascale,like Peters and Waterman, are downright about management being an art, the title of their bookmakes that clear enough.

Outstanding organisations must be strong in strategy, structure and systems,but to rely on these is illusion; "the bestcompanies also have great sophistication on the foursoft S's." Academics and journalists traditionallyconcentrate on the mechanistic parts of managementfor some the soft S's are just froth. "That froth",this splendid Harvard team tells us, "has the powerof the Pacific". And, I would add, the Atlantic. Weon this side of the world are also witness to atransformation in the way management is seeingitself and is set on improving itself. Thesignificance in the best of the checklists is theirshift towards widening its scope and role of themanager. Recession and relentless competition havetaught British management more about the crucialcomponents that the hard S's stand for; they havealso taught us hard lessons about values of the soft S's.

Put another way, the shift is from the mechanics ofmanagement to entrepreneurial qualities. Improvingmanagement means developing the principle andpractice of entrepreneurial change and innovation.Naturally, the process is bound to vary in businesssituations, but in principle its relevance appliesto management in private and public enterprise, tomature industries as well as those aglow in thesunrise sectors, to large and small organizations,and also the public administration. Its applicationis now a central purpose to what we are about in theBIM. It is relevant, too, to the individual manager. Forhim and her, I suggest it involves a five point,self-demanding programme: 1. The continuing improvement of the individual'sprofessional capability - this means more than theessential mastery of functions, it calls forunderstanding of the technical and human values atstake in leading change at every level ofmanagement. On this first point, the other pointsdepend. 2. The personal commitment as a manager to close thegap between the world of work and the world ofeducation - it is not a question of "beinginterested in education and training as well as myjob." It is a vitalising part of the job, within theenterprise and in its external relations. 3. The widening awareness of the internationalhorizons of management, I have said before, nomanagement is an island; of course no manager iseither. International standards are vital tocompetitiveness. International markets andinternational organizations set the pace. 4. The ceaseless practice of communication - themanager is a communicator or nothing. There is noleadership without communication. In a modernworking community, constantly changing, this realityis more than ever a mark of a successful enterprise.What matters more than words are the qualities ofthe relationships expressed what a manager means isconveyed by amenities, by design and style, byaccessibility of authority, by example. In thehigh-tech, information future, flatter smallercommand structures are going to be possible.Communication will be what is expected ofmanagement; and a manager will communicate withmembers of any working community, not because theyare employees or trade unionist only, but becausethey are citizens at work and have the citizensright to information. This relates to the lastpoint. 5. The need to define the social policy ofenterprise this a manager has hitherto not seen withthe clarity and urgency that the priority nowcarries. For example, 200 leading companies arecommitted to the organization of Business in theCommunity BIC has special aims in enterprise andemployment but it is an outstanding illustration ofthe new realism in management. The agenda of socialpolicy is growing; priorities of the socialconsequence of change, of the environment, of equalopportunities of charity and sponsorship, ofestablishing flexible patterns of work-these aregiven increasing attention by the successfulenterprises Inevitably the individual manager has ajob to do in defining his or her role in this socialdimension. Improving management performance calls for aresponse from the individual manager as aprofessional of international standards, as aneducator, as a citizen- not only in the local community, but as a competitive citizen of theworld.

PS - "A management not concentrated on improving itself is not worthy of the name: better call itbureaucracy, damn it, leave it and competition willclean up the mess."

PPS - "A manager who has not experienced the force that being changed can give is no manager: he's notup to his job which is changing andleading-moreover, he's in for a big surprise."


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