NZIM: Cause for concern

“The New Zealand manager sees himself as optimistic, future-oriented, ambitious, hardworking and independent,” wrote Massey University lecturer in business administration George Hines in 1973.
Hines’ 78 page booklet entitled simply The New Zealand Manager was, he wrote, based on “the objective research” of 2400 New Zealand managers. It was, so far as I can find, the first significant attempt to research and explain the state of mind, perceived status and work practices of the Kiwi manager.
Hines concluded the New Zealand manager was quite “unique”. It would, therefore, be “folly to rely on overseas information alone as means of educating and developing” him. The New Zealand manager should not, he added, “be shaped in the image of the British or American executive”. Well, that was 40 years ago.
The Kiwi manager has been researched tad more, though not much, since. She is now, it seems, quite different beast. Hines was optimistic about his commitment to work and his “independent outlook” on life.
Now, however, since they completed research study for the New Zealand Institute of Management earlier this year, Dana Cumin, Dayal Talukder and Brent Hawkins of Auckland’s ICL Business School are concerned about our manager’s ability to perform to her best.
ICL’s online survey asked New Zealand managers how they perceive the relative importance of their individual skills and competencies; how they would acquire those skills if needed; the relevance of these competencies to their organisations; and finally, they asked what personal attributes Kiwi managers think are important to help them do their job better.

Kiwi managers rate interpersonal and communication skills higher than coaching and technical skills. Similarly, they view “on the job experience” as their primary source of upskilling. Those who use training providers to upskill, prefer private to government-owned providers.
The personal attributes managers rated most highly are honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. Their last place ranking of creativity however, worried the researchers. This finding is, they said, “cause for concern for the future development of New Zealand companies”.
That managers placed so little relative value on creativity suggests company owners and directors should encourage managers to see creativity as “necessary attribute for enhancing innovation and competitiveness”. As the study pointed out, New Zealand’s low international ranking in the global competitiveness stakes is problem both now and, no doubt increasingly, in future.
The researchers suggested the lack of importance managers ascribed to being creative might explain why New Zealand lags behind so many other countries in terms of innovation and global competitiveness.
And, strangely, Kiwi managers ranked experience as the second least important attribute in their personal armoury of competencies. Their top to bottom ranking of the attributes they considered important to their managerial jobs included:
• Honesty/integrity
• Trustworthiness
• Judgement
• Flexibility/adaptability
• Self confidence
• Emotional intelligence
• Intelligence
• Reliability
• Experience
• Creativity
Management writers such as America’s John Kotter, author of the best seller Leading Change, consider ‘experience’ important to managing high performance organisations. Kiwi managers don’t apparently agree and this perception, according to the ICL researchers, should also concern company owners and directors.
Managers also rated problem-solving skills, leadership and teamwork important. The majority of them thought that leadership’s relevance would increase in the future. They thought the relevance of technical, crisis management, team work, interpersonal and problem-solving skills would likely remain the same.

Novel investigation
The study, initiated in partnership with NZIM, is novel investigation. Little specifically local management research has been done since the 1970s. According to the researchers, surveys undertaken from New Zealand perspective are lacking from contemporary management literature. It is likely, therefore, that more studies will be undertaken to tease out some of the findings which NZIM can then use to add focus to its practical and applied management development programmes.
“The findings tell us lot about how New Zealand managers think and feel about their skills and competencies and how they go about enhancing them,” says NZIM chief executive Kevin Gaunt. “Having better and more up-to-date understanding of how managers see themselves is vital to us. It helps keep the things we do and the services we offer to New Zealand managers and organisations relevant to both now and the future.”
The survey found significant differences between the specific skills and competencies New Zealand managers think are important and those that existing management literature suggests deliver better organisational performance. The Kiwi manager’s failure to appreciate that creativity and experience are important to effective management is one, albeit critical, example according to the researchers.
And respondents seemed to think that leadership skills will be more important in the future than they are now. That’s worry too. The researchers suggest that learning providers gear up to meet an increased demand for more leadership skills development. They also need to educate managers on just how important leadership skills are to managing effectively in today’s business environment.
“The critical issue for managers today is to identify the importance of leadership skills beyond merely interpersonal and communication skills to include the coaching elements of leadership,” say the researchers. Leadership skills are needed to “guide and foster creativity to enhance innovation so New Zealand will not lag behind but instead lead in excellence.
“Honesty and trustworthiness are fine attributes and important to instil confidence and motivate employees.” However, the ICL team suggests that greater emphasis on creativity is needed to encourage managers to shape their futures rather than be shaped by them. “This will enhance New Zealand’s innovation environment as well as help the country to position itself better in the globally competitive marketplace.”
“This kind of research is important to us,” says Gaunt. “But it is even more important to our member and client organisations. It points up the critical importance of ongoing management and leadership development. It also identifies the areas in which attitudinal and competency priorities must change if businesses are to compete successfully both at home and abroad.
“The study has provided some valuable insights but we also understand that it is not an end in itself. Rather, it is beginning and we will work to build on it.” M

Reg Birchfield FNZIM is writer on leadership, governance & management. [email protected]

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