Knowledge Wave Wake-Up Call

NZIM’s primary role is to improve the quality of management practice in New Zealand and the conference provided stimulating and clear, if at times controversial, signal for New Zealand and NZIM to move forward. Slipping down the OECD ladder is one thing. Falling off the end into third world status is another.

The world of the future
NZIM has long been concerned about the issues raised at the conference. As one of New Zealand’s largest professional membership organisations and leading promoter of management education and training, we advocate learning and nurturing management skills from secondary schools to all levels of the career ladder.
Competent organisations need competent managers. In the complex and changing environment of the future these managers need new skills. No longer can we rely on the received wisdom of the past.
Management learning is needed as never before. Management is no longer about administering and controlling, but rather about leading, seeking opportunity, anticipating change and being prepared to re-create oneself and one’s enterprise to respond to new circumstances and environments.
Recent Auckland and Massey University research shows that New Zealand managers are, unfortunately, still fixated with outdated traditional command and control techniques. New Zealand managers are too hands on. We therefore need to think carefully about the question: “Is my management technique and style appropriate for today?” If not, we should do something about it. Easy to say – but often difficult to recognise the signs. Perhaps we should ask mentor or someone whose judgement we trust: “Is my management practice appropriate?”
Research and needs analysis must be forward looking, lead rather than lag, and be related to practice in order to be rapidly applied. Today’s world class organisation must be agile. Agility is defined as “having the capacity for rapid change and flexibility”. This capacity for rapid change and flexibility is essential in management education and training to lead and manage tomorrow’s organisation.
And we need to urgently address core competencies in number of areas including developing strategy, harnessing technology and developing our people.
Doug Marsh, president of Business New Zealand and member of the NZIM national board, is vocal advocate of the need to improve management competencies. He says unequivocally that “economic growth is driven on achieving higher productivity. That means in part greater investment in human capital. Successful business creates growth but that demands higher level of managerial and governance strategic performance. Successful countries have pragmatic economic growth plan – we need one too. Our role is championing the plan and in particular educational reform in literacy, standards, management and governance, competency, development and best practice.”
What did the Knowledge Wave conference have to say about education and training? It made series of recommendations to Government, number of which have implications for education and training.
* Align the education system to support knowledge society;
* Develop more effective working relationship between tertiary institutions and business;
* Create an education system that ensures access, develops comprehensive skill base and is responsive to national needs;
* Create national education strategy.

The world today
What needs to be done?
* In schools the core curriculum ignores business and management skills, and until recently the only business programmes widely available have been accounting and economics.
* Successive governments have invested in basic skills training, and especially through the BIZ programme, but there is little follow-up and little incentive to progress.
* While the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) has developed several business and management qualifications, there is lack of coherence and competence framework for them to relate to.
• On the whole managers of all businesses show considerably less investment in education or training than our overseas counterparts.
• Managers of small to medium-sized businesses which constitute 96 percent of New Zealand businesses are least likely to have management training.

Competencies – the link
While academic study may provide excellent understanding of concepts, perspectives and environments for decision making, management competence is tested in the world of work. It is here that entrepreneurial skills and leadership must make difference. And work management skills are very different from those gained through academic study. They are tested by the handling of complex day-to-day decision making, the ability to work with others and to lead, inspire and model. They are tested by results and graded against the bottom line.
NZIM is developing processes to evaluate the roles of managers within organisations, so they can be clear that they are achieving worthwhile goals, and to give them pathways for professional self-development. NZIM is benchmarking all its professional short courses to international competency standards to provide clear points of comparison with businesses in Australia and other western economies.
The qualifications that derive from this process will be obtained through rigorous processes of assessment, and should have international standing.

One common theme
Shortly after the Knowledge Wave conference, I attended an international management conference hosted by the Australian Institute of Management in Melbourne. And surprise, or rather no surprise, speaker after speaker addressed exactly the same issues. Australia was doing badly on the OECD table, they said. They suffered from skills and knowledge shortage in the knowledge economy, they needed to develop lifelong learning philosophies and they needed government/business partnerships. Our former Prime Minister, David Lange, was one of the keynote speakers. Our capacity to cope with change can be measured by the way both countries have fallen down the OECD table, he said.
At the time of writing this column last month NZIM national chairman, Doug Matheson, and I were attending an international management conference hosted by the Asia Association of Management Organisations. The theme of “The new economy: challenge and response” attracted an impressive line up of international speakers including our own Sir Gil Simpson. No doubt the same issues will be raised with hopefully some answers.

The invisible screen
High profile events such as the Knowledge Wave Conference cause frustration at times. People are selected to attend these events because they are considered to be the movers and shakers and the outcomes are all-too-often self-evident and predictable. That the Government and Auckland University collaborated on such conference was excellent. It has led to outcomes that encourage New Zealanders to strive to define and fulfil our national potential.
Still, we wonder sometimes who the wake-up call is for! NZIM and other similar organistions have been knocking on an invisible screen for some time, and though our members, partners, clients, colleagues and friends have been awake for some time, those on the other side of the screen have not been so easily roused.
People have been ready for change for long while. But without climate conducive to change, where people are encouraged to try new ideas, to work in new ways and to take chances with their lives, people become risk-averse and phlegmatic about their lives. Perhaps the conference is, in perverse sense, for the Government to presage that it is going to initiate climate change, and that spring is in the air.
Let us not become self-satisfied or lose the momentum that the Knowledge Wave Conference has created. Let us build on the hard work that is already taking place to develop dynamic, entrepreneurial business sector, with rigorous standards and adventurous leadership.

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