NZIM: Managers tossed overboard! – The ship of state isn’t thinking

Managers are under attack – on many fronts. Recessionary economies traditionally carve into management flesh as part of ritualistic blood-letting, often stopping only when they hit organisational bone or marrow. But the current assault on management is facilitated by perfect storm of cruel events, of world-changing trade and technological trends, of flawed but fast-held economic dogma, and by increasingly irrelevant political ideology and leadership.
The current reality is that private sector managers are victims of the global financial crisis and its ensuing recession. Other management jobs have disappeared in the ruins of what was the proud, picturesque and highly productive city of Christchurch. And public sector management posts, dramatically bolstered in number by the last Labour government, are disappearing from the branches of the bureaucracy like autumn leaves. Managers are, understandably, feeling under siege.
Other changes, even more dramatic and long-lasting, are also impacting the manager’s lot. Changing organisational structures, New Zealand’s battered and confused economy and even the evolution of capitalism are collectively impacting management. As NZIM Northern chief executive Kevin Gaunt puts it: “The world is going through major change process which we don’t fully understand at present and so yes, there is dark and dangerous feeling [for managers] out there”.

Time bites
The rate and range of change taking place across the spectrum of organisational leadership and management is, says Gaunt, “impacting the role of managers desperately learning to manage different organisation structures and methods of working. People are, for instance, beginning to work in ‘bites of time’ rather than for traditional extended periods. I suspect we are also at the tipping point where Y gens are taking control,” he adds.
Also disconcerting is the loss of future management feedstock. Talk to those at the coalface of enterprise, in recruitment agencies and conversing in business school cafes and they claim there are fewer work opportunities out there, even for graduates. Our best and brightest are, like Godwits in winter, migrating. Gaunt hopes that once they gain international experience they will, again Godwit-like, return home.
Just how important managers are to the nation was highlighted in last year’s government-sponsored research report, Management Matters. The study found, as it has in other countries, that critically important relationship exists between management capability and national productivity. New Zealand, the report said, seriously needed to build its management skills and capabilities to compete – particularly globally.
The research was supposed to help the Government make more informed policy decisions. Its findings on number of “management quality” issues would, said the authors, “contribute to the evidence base for future [government] policy decisions”. It might be election year, but there is scant evidence of any enlightened or future-focused thinking yet emerging from the Government or any of the other political parties. Politicians are, it seems, as confused about the nature and needs of our fast-changing world as employers in general.
“I don’t think managers and employers understand the big shifts that are happening,” says Gaunt. “And for New Zealand, the outlook is further clouded by the Canterbury earthquake. Sadly, I think the economy is in bigger strife than is currently recognised.”

Impaired vision
If Gaunt is correct, then New Zealand needs better understanding of how enterprise, economies and organisations are changing. And we need managers and leaders who are capable of delivering new organisational and operational thinking and practices – in other words, both more capable and visionary managers and leaders.
The scale of the problem is, in part, identified by leading American management thinkers and writers Michael E Porter and Mark R Kramer. Capitalism is, they say in recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, under siege. “Diminished trust in business is causing political leaders to set policies that sap economic growth,” and the world needs to “reinvent capitalism” and redefine the purpose of companies around “creating shared value (CSV)”. This is, to some extent, an interesting new take on corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is still struggling for universal traction. It does, however, show just how far and fast management and leadership thinking is evolving.
But are managers still so important? And how are they supposed to respond to the ever-changing landscape in which they operate. Canada’s controversial professor and management thinker, Henry Mintzberg is in little doubt. His recent book, Management? It’s not what you think, is designed to shake up management thinking. It is time to “take management well beyond thinking”, he says.
But he wants managers to manage “more modestly”. He said in recent interview that the world had had enough of hubris and believing that “only one person” leads an organisation, “The bonus system is designed around that [belief] – and I think it is nonsense. Organisations are communities and when people get energised and have trust in their organisation they’re fantastic.”
The management myth he most wants to attack is the separation of leadership and management. “The idea that leaders are separate from managers means that if you are leading without managing, you don’t know what is going on. And if you are managing without leading, you’re pretty uninspiring,” he says.

Mintzberg’s myth
“Managing and leading have to be combined. The myth of leadership in general – the notion that one person is going to come in and change the organisation – is very damaging. I’d like to shatter the myth of what I would call leadership versus communityship. Certainly communities need leaders,” says Mintzberg, “but good leaders recognise the importance of culture and community. Leaders and managers need communities.”
Management, according to Mintzberg, “is critically important function” in society. And to his mind, it becomes more important and more functional when individuals don’t overemphasise their importance as managers. “A manager’s job is to help create system where other people can be constructive,” he says. “Managing is about the feeling and the seeing and the doing, about balancing leadership with communityship. It is often messier than managers think. Managing is job not for supermen or superwomen, but for flawed and caring individuals.”
And Gaunt thinks NZIM can and must play key role in pushing the management and leadership agenda. He is not, however, confident of seeing much in the way of government policies and strategies to create jobs and wealth and opportunities for managers to deliver the kind of economic performance New Zealand needs to take its place in the world. “The politics are too strong and subject to short-term gains,” he says. “That’s why we need to strengthen NZIM and builds it leadership and management role in the economy.” M

Reg Birchfield Life FNZIM, is writer on leadership and management. [email protected]

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