OPINION LEADERS Are We World Class?

Being world class is about concepts, competencies and connections.
World-class managers must be familiar with the latest management concepts, ideas and emerging trends. It’s become fashionable to describe new management ideas as fads which go away if we wait long enough. They will, but only to be replaced by new ones. The greatest gains in business performance are through management innovation, which means exploring new ideas as they emerge and before the competition. Of course you need to choose the right ideas! The CEO of Procter & Gamble worldwide chose Peak Performance theory, developed at Waikato, as the basis for developing inspirational leadership in his top team, precisely because it was new idea, not then adopted by others.
How do New Zealand managers rate on their willingness to embrace new concepts? Pretty well we have found. Visits from management thinkers such as Gary Hamel and Charles Handy are well received. Midcareer managers are increasingly committed to pursuing business diplomas and MBAs to enhance their knowledge of concepts and acquire the skills to apply these in the workplace.
How well do New Zealand managers perform in regard to the competencies of inspirational communication and leadership? With partners Kevin Roberts and Clive Gilson, I have run more than 60 workshops for CEOs and top teams from iconic global corporations like Procter & Gamble, Toyota and Publicis Groupe as well as some New Zealandbased organisations. At these workshops we employ metric measuring participants’ inspirational quotient. We find the top people within large clients, especially our iconic global clients, have significantly stronger inspirer quotients than smaller organisations. Not surprising when it’s 10 times harder to get into Procter & Gamble than Harvard Business School, and the people we work with are the top 200 out of 130,000 staff. With that kind of scale and multiplicity of business experience it’s almost inevitable managers of large global organisations have greater management skills than those from their smaller cousins, here or elsewhere.
And this leads to the third component of world class – connectedness. New Zealand managers, especially because of distance from markets and technologies, must make special effort to build global connectedness. Connectedness means personal relationships, brilliant technology and onthe-ground visits to hear, smell, see, touch, and taste customer and consumer trends, needs and moods as they emerge. We don’t do this well enough except for few niche organisations. We are still relying on comparative advantage of climate and environment for our two key exports of dairy and tourism, scale economies and cost reduction in commodity or near commodity industries. That’s unsustainable thinking.
Herein lies more profound issue. World class is not enough for New Zealand. To be part of class means you are part of social system with similar characteristics. New Zealand business does not have similar characteristics to large global corporations. Indeed we don’t have large business any more; it’s gone offshore. New Zealand business is but rounding error on the global spreadsheet of enterprise.
Our business leaders must think differently to make difference. They will need to think sustainable, because as Management magazine explained recently, sustainability is becoming way of life for business and those who don’t get it won’t survive. They will need to think enterprise because this is our core competency as nation. We are great at it; always have been. World-class managers are often dreadful at it because they have been locked into systems and processes that stifle innovation. We have to celebrate enterprise and look for it everywhere; economic, social, environmental and cultural enterprise. Sustainable enterprise is our future because it harmonises with New Zealanders’ love of quality of life (see the recent GIAB survey) and our # 8 wire mentality. We must become conceptual, competent, connected # 8 wire entrepreneurs.
Management is not enough to energise economic transformation. The word derives from military metaphor of hand- ling war horse. It implies command and control. You can’t sustain enterprise through control. So maybe we need leaders? The word leader derives from the old Anglo-Saxon word ‘laed’ which meant pathway. Through usage leader was someone who took others on journeys. This won’t be sufficient for an entrepreneurial New Zealand. We need inspiration beyond leadership. The word inspiration derives from the word spirit, originally meaning breath of life. Therefore to inspire means to breathe life or energy into others, to energise them to be the best they can be. We need inspirers of sustainable enterprise to enable New Zealand to become the envy of the world for quality of life. World-class managers won’t be enough.

Professor Mike Pratt is dean of the University of Waikato’s Management School.

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