INTOUCH : Strut your stuff!

If Kiwis want to play catch up with their Aussie counterparts on the productivity front, one thing local managers could learn is to “strut their stuff” bit more.
New Zealand managers need to know and play to their strengths as well as work on their weaknesses, suggests Bridget Beattie who heads up the Australasian division of global consulting firm Right Management. Having worked with managers on both sides of the Tasman, she says the skill bases are different – but also complementary. Australians, for instance, take more considered approach to efficiency gains, whereas Kiwis have tendency to go for the quick fix.
“One of the things that struck me the most when I started working in Australia is that Australians are very focused on getting the process right and gaining efficiencies through that, whereas Kiwis might change the process without going back to ask – what did we learn when we did it last time? They tend to take the shortest route between ‘a’ and ‘b’ even if it’s not the most efficient and, long term, may not give them the best results.”
However, she adds cautionary note that the keener focus on process efficiencies shouldn’t be allowed to stifle the innovation that is also buried in the Kiwi urge to keep trying something different.
Then there’s the characteristic Aussie toughness in business – Kiwis may be nicer to deal with but don’t always have the commercial aspects “front and centre” of business discussions. And we inevitably tend to lack experience with business scale.
“The depth of leadership here is not so great – while we get the complexity of managing small enterprises, we lack experience in terms of depth and scale. Australians are very challenging of their managers and I think the whole commercial focus is lot stronger there.”
On the whole, the issues managers face on either side of the Tasman are not too different, says Beattie. These include ensuring front-line managers are equipped and clear about what the business plan is; being aware the recession has created “hostages” – those still working for reasons of job security rather than genuine engagement; and re-aligning accountabilities that have become confused during restructuring.
She suggests Kiwi managers could fast-track their learning by complementing local management strengths with exposure to the scale and more developed business culture across the Tasman. But the exchange flow works both ways – because there are some things Kiwis are better at – like taking big picture approach rather than being too focused on silos.
“We have the most wonderful generalists who know the process end to end. They can see how to join all the dots up and that’s fantastic skill – you find New Zealand managers can play six or seven different roles. Those that do get into bigger roles offshore do very well.
“So key message is we should strut our stuff – I think we do lot of things incredibly well but we need to understand scale, to not be frightened of it and to learn from it because I think that is where some of the productivity gains will come.”

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