Thinking Managers

Robert Heller of looks back over forty years to consider what has changed.

Forty Years Later

The September 2006 issue of Management Today represented a personal landmark, since it was the 40th anniversary of the magazine, and I launched it all those years ago. I also stayed at the helm under one guise or another until finally departing in 1987.
Those 21 years saw huge events and big changes in management trends - but nothing to match the following 15 years.  Some of these shifts are relevant mainly to the UK, but the global changes are evident everywhere else.

The main development has been the gigantic rise in wealth at every level, from the nation state to personal incomes.  The British economy had a Gross Domestic Product of £467 billion in 1966. It had risen to £1.2 trillion by 2005, only making eighth place in the world economic league. This was still an increase of two and a half times despite a large relative decline in manufacture, from 44% to 25%, the rest all being services.

In 2006, managers still have to strive for ‘hard’ results utilising technical excellence.  However, they must also master the ‘soft’ management styles and tactics that mobilise people power.  Headhunters Heidrick & Struggles have observed that executives “must have a finger on the pulse of their customers, think ahead of the competition and manage shareholder expectations. But it’s just as important for them to focus on internal stakeholders”.

Writing one of ten Management Today essays commissioned for the anniversary issue, the pair are completely right.  I’ve often pinpointed the key paradox: that your most important customers are your colleagues at all levels.  They need management to take a company in the right direction and allow everybody to share in the progress and achieve customer satisfaction.  Jobs will be destroyed by confused leadership and people will be helpless to prevent the destruction.

Two IBM contributors to Management Today underline the positive in the leader-led relationship: “Our findings show that the higher the level of collaboration, the stronger the financial results.”

Contribution after contribution presents the key humanist philosophy: that HR “must practise active talent management”; “Nobody enjoys working for a firm that is regularly splashed across the headlines for abusing its power”; etc, etc.  However, one soft management technique should be avoided like the plague: MBLS - Management by Lip Service.

After 40 years, a greater number of managers know what they should do and more actually do it.  However, there are still too many who know what to do and then do the exact opposite.  Identifying such easy failure and eliminating it is the hard task managers should not swerve.

About the author
Robert Heller is one of the world’s best selling authors on business management.