Management’s Renaissance

Management thinkers everywhere are calling for a management renaissance. The New Zealand Institute of Management agrees that changes in management thinking, practice and education are overdue. Meanwhile, NZIM is going through its own renaissance. Reg Birchfield reports. 

New Zealand needs a “management renaissance” the New Zealand Institute of Management’s newly appointed chairman, Dan Coward, suggested earlier this year. He envisaged one similar to that which emerged after World War II. That renaissance fired-up the nation’s manufacturing sector and its economy in general. “NZIM was spawned in that innovative, management-focused environment,” he said.

Management thinkers everywhere seem to be calling for management renaissance. Many also want a renaissance in business education.  

The calls are in response to the emergence of a series of startling global contradictions. The world is witnessing a mind-bending technological explosion while being simultaneously confronted with economic stagnation and financial instability; growing inequality; unemployment and under-employment; ageing populations and low birth rates in Western economies; burgeoning state sectors and increasing corporate autism.

The OECD’s latest predictions for the world economy to 2060 have economic growth slowing and in danger of stagnating. Inequality will, they believe, increase massively over the next 50 years and there is a big risk that climate change will significantly impact life on earth.

The world will, on the other hand, be four times richer, more productive, more globalised and more highly educated. If you’re struggling to rationalise the two halves of those predictions, join the queue which, as it happens, is a line that includes some of the world’s best-qualified economists.

Richard Straub, President of the Peter Drucker Society of Europe, is calling for a “great transformation” in management. “We are at the beginning of a set of gigantic changes in society – for better or for worse,” he offers. “The future is open: nobody knows what it will hold. One thing we do know (is that) on this stage, managers will surely be of pivotal importance for shaping it.”

Management, Straub argues, is a “real-world practice” undertaken by people. “Managers can make all the difference in the world with their knowledge, their creativity, their emotions and their values,” he says in a paper promoting his great transformation concept. And by management he means commercial players, non-profit organisations and the public sector. “Each has the mandate to create value and to achieve its mission.”

Growth happens in successfully-managed, individual organisations before a country’s growth figures are calculated, says Straub. “While politicians and other experts are obsessed with aggregations and ratios, they tend to forget that the action happens in real life and not in the abstractions of economics.”

Straub and Harvard Business Review editor-at-large Julia Kirby, have jointly argued that better management could spur a new era of economic growth. Managers are, they suggest, among the worlds “great rule inventors and implementers” but today’s structures, processes and compensation schemes are “quashing more motivation and constraining more capability than they are promoting it”.

Management author and HBR blogger David K Hurst is also calling for a management renaissance. Management, as crafted in the late 19thand early 20thcentury and radically reformed in the 1950s, has “degenerated into a new scholasticism”, according to Hurst. Preoccupation with methods and means has developed to the exclusion of aims and ends.

Employees are more than ever disengaged from their work. Consequently larger organisations can’t innovate successfully. “A second renaissance would call for a new approach to learning – a humanistic return to experience, practice and the cultivation of judgement and practical wisdom in managers,” Hurst writes. “This renaissance would involve a blend of ancient wisdom and new perspectives.”

The Dean and Managing Director of Jonkoping International Business School in Sweden, Johan Roos, says the world needs both a management renaissance and a “renaissance in business education” generally. Business schools are now too academic, according to Roos. They should be “dramatically” transformed. He cites his experiences as a lecturer at five business schools and dean of two of them, to support his call for change.

“We are stuck with an academic system in which business schools are run as if they are deaf, blind and dumb to a completely new emerging world,” he blogged recently. Business development programmes should focus on real and practical problems of that are relevant to today’s business world, he wrote.

Business schools should, says Roos, stress five “neglected qualities”. They should be:

  • humanity-minded and put philosophy and humanities back into core business education
  • blended and use technology to get students out of large campuses
  • individualised and offer students options to customise education to reflect personal goals, ambitions, capabilities and risk tolerance
  • STEM-driven which means increasing students’ knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math and expand their horizons of technology beyond IT and “angry apps”
  • hands-on and merge business experience and academia more.

“Business leaders who will succeed in the coming decade will be notable for their holistic thinking, global perspectives, international experience, multilingual capability, technological familiarity, entrepreneurial mind-set, creativity and ability to deal productively with complexity and chaos,” writes Roos.

Given the ground swell of technological and organisational change, NZIM’s own initiatives and re-positioning this year are both fortuitous and well timed, says retiring Chief Executive, Gary Sturgess. “The four month interruption to Management magazine’s almost 60 year publishing record obviously wasn’t planned but, in the event, it has facilitated the creation of new and very exciting communication initiatives that will enable us to more effectively deliver the management renaissance message.

Management’s linkage with NZBusiness magazine enhances both publications by expanding their readership and influence. The ‘Power of Two’ marketing position statement articulates exactly what we can achieve.

“The change also allowed us to create our new fortnightly enewsletter, Management Today. We can now keep members, programme users and all NZIM’s other stakeholders up to speed with fast-evolving management initiatives, research, trends and events at home and abroad,” says Sturgess. “And new and enhanced Management and NZIM web sites will also evolve from the expanded digital platform now being created.

“But the two most recent developments that best reflect the spirit of renaissance Dan Coward identified is the creation of NZIM’s Young Managers Advisory Board and the appointment of Fiona Hewittas our new chief executive,” adds Sturgess. “These two decisions will have a profound impact on NZIM and on the development of management capability throughout New Zealand.”

(References available on request)

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