NZIM: 2012: challenges for NZ managers

The unequivocal message that things don’t stay the same holds more true now than ever. Problems, opportunities, processes and priorities change constantly – usually markedly so.
For its part, NZIM emerged from 2011 with brave new internal and external agenda. This is designed to equip the organisation to better help managers and leaders identify, understand and deal with the new priorities. NZIM’s task now is to deliver. It won’t be easy because, in addition to everything else, the country’s post-election economy and leadership environment won’t be whole lot better than they were last year.
The country remains burdened with public and private sector debt, productivity in most industry sectors languishes at bottom-feeder levels, Kiwi management capability ranks below that of most peer nations’, best practice governance is still foreign phrase for most corporate directors, and cost cutting is still the preferred strategic approach to managing through our recession-like economy.
The challenge for skills development organisation like NZIM is to overcome New Zealand’s entrenched leadership reluctance to commit to, and focus on, building competent individuals and managers as the essential ingredient for enterprise success.
As NZIM Inc’s chief executive Kevin Gaunt said last year, “managers are under assault from head count choppers in both the private and public sectors. The country needs managers to help rebuild the economy and re-shape organisations for the future.” Consequently, there are just too few managers with the across-the-board capabilities required for the job.

People first
Organisations that want to fare better in 2012 will focus on their people and adopt policies that attract, retain and extract the best from them. People, not processes, infrastructure and all the other paraphernalia of enterprise, deliver the best products and services.
Talent and skills shortages will, for an array of reasons, worsen in 2012. Skills shortages exist across range of industry sectors in both New Zealand and Australia. But the shortage of skilled leaders and managers was reportedly particularly acute last year.
Nothing has happened to change that.
“Clearly leaders and managers need to look at their own skill base and ensure their skills are up to scratch,” 2011 study by consultancy Leaders and Managers Australasia (LMA) warned.
“They must look to potential future leadership and management successors in their organisations and identify and develop talent for both succession and future growth.”
Like other similar studies, LMA identified job satisfaction as critical to attracting and retaining management and other employee talent. Their study found almost 60 percent of the surveyed workforce either “hated” their jobs or lacked “positive attitude” toward them.
NZIM’s Gaunt agrees employers will need to create more satisfying workplace experiences to compete successfully in this year’s more aggressive talent war. Job dissatisfaction, more than any other single factor, directly or substantially motivates individuals at all levels to exit the enterprises they work for.

Generational warfare
Generational disharmony, another people issue, is also on the rise. The LMA study discovered that baby boomers don’t get on as well with each other as do, for example, Gen-Yers who, ironically, have been considered the workplace’s “problem children”.
Most baby boomers (87 percent) don’t want to work with members of their own generation. And 59 percent of them don’t even want to report to their generational peers. Other generations, like Gen-Y and Gen-X, dislike baby boomers even more. The vast majority (90+ percent) of these two groups neither want to work with, or report to baby boomers.
With baby boomers filling the majority of leadership and management positions in organisations for at least another decade, the implications of the finding are profound. LMA’s executive chairman Grant Sexton believes “the days when the challenges of fulfilling the needs of different groups can simply be dismissed as one particular generation just being difficult and demanding” are gone.
“Understanding the needs, expectations and motivations of given generation could be the difference between keeping and losing some of your best people,” he adds.
Diversity of opinion, approach and experience won’t stop at the generational doorstep. There will, for example, be dramatic shift in the composition of New Zealand boards. Thanks to some long overdue reforms at both the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) and the Institute of Directors, our corporate boards will be populated by more women. The appointment of more women to our biggest boards is one of last year’s more positive legacies.
New Zealand’s poor governance standards are legendary, its impact on corporate performance painfully obvious. An unspoken convention that governance is about regulation and compliance rather than leadership and strategy has prevailed.
Greater diversity of board composition and skill sets (hopefully fewer lawyers and accountants), better working relationships between directors and executives, and the adoption of more ethical and responsible governance practices are both overdue and pivotal to lifting New Zealand’s poor productivity and international competitiveness performance.
Diversity of every kind – ethnic, educational, life experience – is re-shaping and enriching the New Zealand workforce. For managers and leaders the challenge is to better understand both the organisational demands and the opportunities that accompany diversity. It won’t come easily for many traditional, generally male, Kiwi leaders and managers.

Global challenge
NZIM has identified the need to help New Zealand companies step up their global commitment and understanding as another 2012 challenge. Gaunt warned in July last year that Kiwi businesses are in danger of becoming irrelevant to increasingly dynamic Asian economies.
“Too few of our business leaders understand what is going on in Asia and are making little effort to learn. It will be to our collective cost,” he said.
New Zealand managers are quite capable of operating in the Asian market, or any other markets for that matter. But, according to Gaunt, they are still not making sufficient effort to understand and gear up to meet the reality of the opportunity.
“We need to understand what the market opportunity is and how we must compete to take part in it,” he said.
The implications of the parlous state of the global economy, particularly western economies, the inadequacies of political leadership, increasing complexity of enterprise, the need to adopt and implement more relevant management and leadership practices and developing capacity to cope with the realities of an increasingly competitive marketplace will all be on the table in 2012.
NZIM has resolved to contribute to managers’ understanding of these and other critical leadership issues. As its chairman Gary Sturgess says, NZIM wants to be recognised as the “go-to” management organisation that all aspiring and practising managers and leaders need to belong to.
Sturgess sees 2012 as the year in which NZIM will reach further into regional New Zealand, taking new opportunities and experiences to businesses. He expects to broaden and strengthen its membership base, offer selection of programmes and courses that are nationally consistent, and tailor learning solutions to meet the needs of members, managers and leaders.
This year will be packed equally with problems and potential. It offers most to those unafraid to acknowledge the opportunities and seize the day. M

Reg Birchfield FNZIM is writer on management and leadership. Email: [email protected]

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