Viewpoint: People Manage

Bad management decisions can be devastating for individuals and organisations.

In its simplest form management is about getting things done through people. The fundamental management principle of people working together to achieve common purpose has not changed.

Management is also about creating and delivering products or services that are better than those delivered by competitors. Products or services traded or promoted outside New Zealand must, to be successful, be better than the global equivalent.

Marketing products or services inside New Zealand requires exactly the same philosophical commitment to excellence if we are to succeed in an increasingly global marketplace. The leadership objective of every manager in New Zealand must be to lift organisational performance to world-class standards.

Billionaire American investor Warren Buffett explained the attitude he thinks managers need to succeed by saying that “the management failings elsewhere that [we] have seen, make us thankful that we are linked with the managers of our permanent holdings. They love their business, they think like owners, and they exude integrity and ability.”

Are these attitudes prevalent among New Zealand managers entrusted with the responsibility to grow their businesses with due regard to the interests of all stakeholders?

Thinking like an owner requires management to be familiar with every aspect of an organisation, to share beliefs and to properly communicate knowledge and experience throughout the enterprise. Successful management is about understanding and leading people.

So where does technology fit into the people management equation? IT has been 50 years in evolution and in multiplicity of ways has dramatically impacted organisational management.
Despite the advances IT has delivered it is still only tool to assist management make informed and effective (not necessarily efficient) decisions.

Management cannot hide behind technology or expect it to deliver solutions without input from people. Yet many organisations turn to uniform computer systems to provide answers to complex issues rather looking to the most desirable alternative – innovative people.

IBM executive Doug Elix recently told World IT Congress in Adelaide that IT has become more and more complex to manage despite its incredible technological advances. “It’s staggering to think how much we are spending on integration of complex technology, rather than spending time and money on things that will improve how our organisations will perform, or improve the way we live our lives,” he said.

Technology integration ranks as one of the top strategic priorities for chief information officers around the world “if we don’t do something about it, this technological complexity will grow to such scale that it will become impossible to manage”. Solving the problem will take widespread industry collaboration. “It’s time for the IT community to improve its image,” he said.

My message is simple. The responsibility for management excellence cannot be delegated. People manage, using the relevant knowledge and wisdom acquired from life’s experiences. The IT department is required to provide information, which enables management decisions to benefit all stakeholders. Computers are incapable of determining outcomes. That is management’s ultimate responsibility. M

Bernie Harris, Emeritus AFNZIM, is principal of Wellington-based Bernard Harris and Associates.

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