Thinking Managers

Robert Heller of argues that young managers should not be as boring as their predecessors.

Renewal of Management Styles Needed

Management has never been widely considered an exciting or thrilling activity. However, this often comes down to ignorance. Just a small section of the population has direct experience of what’s required for management, what managers are like, and the enormous effect management styles can have on a company and wider society.

However, surely the excitement quotient has risen in the 20th and 21st centuries? What is management if not the consolidation of opportunity? And there can be no argument with the proposition that the number and scale of opportunities have risen with a speed and power that managers must surely follow.

But five words from the famous Gary Hamel strike at the heart of modern management. He says: “Management is out of date.” He goes on to explain that “like the combustion engine, [management is] a technology that has largely stopped evolving, and that’s not good.” When a respected management guru like Hamel makes such a statement, you have to sit up and take notice. You also have to be concerned.
The irrelevance of modern management styles, Hamel argues, has come about from a lack of meaningful evolution. Managers are letting a unique moment in history slip through their fingers – the point where the gathering pace of change could open the door to revolution and new types and methods of organisation.

The pace of change is so lightning-quick that new product generations are being completed when earlier ones are being launched. As far as managing people goes, you can’t wait around for novices to learn the ropes. There is a new climate of speed in which they are working. Fast tracking and early achievement is way ahead of the traditional method of slow and steady movement towards the summit.

The tenets of the new management should be easy enough to grasp and exploit. But if you look for evidence of widespread adoption of new technology to pioneer and establish new management styles, you will be disappointed.

A case in point is contacting a company for customer service. Everyone must be unfortunate enough to know only too well what passes for customer service now. Even those lucky enough to find the right e-mail, telephone number or even department will find that getting a human being to speak to them is nigh on impossible. Instead they are trapped in a hellish loop of inexpert automation.

The real irony is that this is one area of mismanagement which directors can discover at ease – by simply picking up their telephones and going through the same frustrating experience as their customers. But of course it's a long-standing and unspoken tradition of management that managers shouldn’t sample their own products or processes; one presumes this is because learning the truth might force them to address the situation.

Like the majority of humankind, the older they get the more unwilling managers are to learn new lessons, master new practices and practise what they preach. That's unfortunate for them, and also the people whom they lead – or try to lead.
The pace of change in society is matched by generational change inside the organisation. The corporate young don’t have to be as corporate as their seniors and certainly shouldn't be as boring. However, everyone loses if they work in a boring business and are led by boring managers.

Great achievements can be made if management styles keep pace with change – and there will be the satisfaction of being neither bored nor boring, but instead spearheading a new era.

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