MANAGEMENT HISTORY Into The New Millennium – People not process

By 2000 picture had emerged, still little fuzzy around the edges, of the role managers and management would play in the early years of the new century. In general terms, managers were increasingly preoccupied with people rather than process and the command-and-control approach to managing had moved, with some bumps along the way, to the realisation that cooperation was more fruitful approach.
In Management, the ‘gee-whiz’ accounts of how technology was going to transform everything in and out of sight, had been replaced with nuts and bolts stories about how not to get swamped by emails and at what point company should invest in its own website.
But there was no escaping the ‘e’ word and the succession of articles about e-commerce, e-business, e-managing, e-marketing and e-learning. It was heady stuff, with November 2000 feature proclaiming: “E-business is about integrating and streamlining your entire business – sales and marketing, purchasing and supply relationships, customer service, finance and HR management.”
In the midst of this technologically charged atmosphere Waymark Solutions managing director David Parmenter lamented, in February 2001, the demise of the morning tea break. “Looking back, I recall some interesting characteristics of this ritual. Older staff had been around long enough to know ‘just about everything’ and were treated as mentors; staff morale was high, with real team spirit. Mondays were full of weekend stories; and everybody seemed to know what was going on.”
In February 1999 Management had become ‘The Leaders’ Magazine’ and, during the first four years of the new millennium, leadership – the lack of it, the need for it, how and where to find it, and whether its attributes were god-given or could be learned – was the stuff of numerous articles offering range of answers, perspectives, optimism and gloom. The transactional versus transformational leadership debate was waged vigorously, with the latter clearly more in tune with the times. It even got to the point where, in February 2003, there was serious discussion of ‘Leaders as Servants’. As the article said: “Servant leadership relies primarily on building competence in relationships with people who, together with the leader, produce the results… Together they will continually reach for both personal and organisational potential.”
Or, as management consultant Kate Frykberg suggested in February 2004, effective business leadership was quite straightforward, anatomically speaking. “Perhaps it is as simple as having warm heart, cool head, and hard nose.”
Naturally, preoccupation with leadership means focus on CEOs – how they got there, why some stay too long, why some head off overseas too soon, how they make the tough decisions.
Mark Story, interviewing 10 New Zealand business leaders, wrote in June 2003: “… They argue that any business leader who can make significant people-related decisions, directly impacting people’s livelihoods, and not be personally affected is unlikely to be well-rounded individual. As such, he or she probably shouldn’t be charged with steering the ship. Contrary to popular perception, they believe that common sense, intuition born of experience and balance, not ruthlessness and thick skin, equip leaders best to make tough decisions.”
An article in August 2003 asked why top talent was in such short supply and proffered some answers: “If the increasing complexities involved with being in the CEO’s seat weren’t enough to rub some of the gloss off the top job, then increased public/shareholder scrutiny might. Being accountable for frustrated expectations can mean the buck doesn’t stop until it’s run someone over. So CEO status comes with fair dollop of stress but, in New Zealand, lacks other compensations – remuneration is relatively lower and opportunities are migrating across the Tasman along with corporate head offices.”
The performance of managers in general had not been impressive in repeated surveys. In 2004, the Government was anxious to know whether managers were holding New Zealand back. The June issue asked the questions several new initiatives were seeking answers to: “Are poor performing managers the root cause of New Zealand’s mediocre economic performance, static growth and continuing slide down the OECD’s ranking of international economies? Even more worrying, are they largely responsible for the growing gap between our standard of living and Australia’s?”
There were still the management fads and fancies at the beginning of the 21st century largely because, as Charles Handy famously put it, the two things in life you get no training for are parenting and management. The high flying hopes of the ‘balanced scorecard’ were brought back to earth in March 2003 article by Graham Kenny. The four performance measurement categories – financial, customer, internal business process, and innovation and learning – were both arbitrary and inconsistent, he said. He quoted one unhappy manager: “After spending more than year at it, the balanced scorecard was dropped like hot potato. It is virtually incomprehensible to staff, encourages the worst kind of navel gazing…”
If fads were fewer, it was probably because management gurus and other commentators had discovered something more enduring.
‘Values’, in all its manifestations, was the new lightning rod. With the right – surprisingly old-fashioned – values in place managers and companies were better placed to deal with customers, suppliers, staff, the environment, sustainable business practices – the whole grab bag of ethical business behaviour.
Business ethics was now being given more credence than decade previously, it was claimed in February 2000 article: “The evidence? Fewer jokes about the concept being an oxymoron; the new Centre for Business Ethics at the Auckland University of Technology; the setting up of New Zealand Businesses for Social Responsibility; Business Ethics category at the Top 200 Awards; few successful businessmen like Dick Hubbard speaking out; and growing realisation among the business community and politicians that the more extreme elements of the market forces philosophy were not working and were, in some cases, quite inappropriate.”
As ‘corporate governance’ was better understood, with the need for directors and managers to work more closely together, albeit playing different roles, Management began new section, The Director, in June 2003. Less quickly than they would have liked, but inexorably, women were playing more important roles around board tables and in management meetings. So much so that Management included the first MW – Management Woman – magazine-within-a-magazine in its June 2004 issue.
These two additions were during the ‘temporary’ editorship of publisher Reg Birchfield, which was to extend from Sherrill Tapsell’s departure in November 2001 until the beginning of 2005.
Widespread suspicion about the value of MBAs did not stop more and more universities offering these courses in response to bums-on-seats imperatives. If the number of questioning articles on the subject was any indication, it could be concluded that scepticism had, if anything, increased.
Redundancies, the plight of middle managers, finding another job as the retirement age nears had been recurring themes, but Management sniffed changes in the wind. As the so-called ‘baby boomers’ reach retirement age there was, fast approaching around the western world, gaping hole in the workforce.
New Zealand had been slower than many countries to appreciate the coming crisis. As Vicki Jayne wrote in July 2003: “… Older workers, including senior executives, are seldom valued, don’t get the training made available to their younger colleagues, and are usually first in the firing line when recession hits. Many happily embrace early retirement as soon as their ‘super’ kicks in or, if they can, deliberately downsize their work commitments in favour of lifestyle quality.”
Elsewhere, th

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