Management Futures: February round-up

28 February 2014

February’s blog noted how, in the recent past, fashionable management practices diverged from the evidence base, and discussed how we might bring theory and practice closer together. So it’s heartening that nearly three quarters of respondents to our monthly poll had read a management book in the past six months.

So what were some of the big questions we were discussing this month?

One was the question of whether business is going through a historically significant shift away from ‘command and control’ to a more participative style that builds employee engagement.

It was a theme picked up at the evidence session for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Management's Commisson on the Future of Management and Leadership on 11th February. Our illustrious speakers noted how the hierarchical corporation, monitored by the quarterly P&L report, is becoming unfit for purpose – from a purely commercial point of view, never mind considerations such as treatment of employees or wider social responsibility. Markets and technology change too rapidly for everything to have to be debated at the C-suite for 18 months and then cascaded out through the line. Local leaders have to take more initiative.

The phrase ‘distributed leadership’ recurred. This is an exciting time for managers: everyone has to display leadership qualities – not just those at the top.

We heard from Professor Lynda Gratton of the London Business School how ‘Chandra’ [Natarajan Chandrasekaran], CEO at the TCS corporation, has built 30,000 social networks for staff. Groups have names such as: How do we do this better? How do we help the neighbourhood? Professor Gratton told the evidence session: ‘Social media on these platforms is going to make a huge difference, connecting peers to each other. Knowledge flows used to be vertical – when you start connecting people to each other it changes the whole dynamics.’

Kevin Murray of the Good Relations Group added: ‘In a global organisation you can’t go up and down the line all the time, you wouldn’t get anything done: [you need to] engage these [local] leaders: get them involved in the journey.’

The session also discussed the radical idea for global companies of a leadership development programme for 10,000 managers, rather than just the top 200, as might be done traditionally. With technology, it could be done.

But what skills should be taught in the post-command and control world? Coaching emerges from many research programmes as an essential part of the manager’s approach, as part of an entrepreneurial and participative style. How can these skills be developed? Do today’s business school programmes deliver the goods? A modern curriculum for the 21st century leader is the subject of our review with the Association of Business Schools and the Quality Assurance Agency. Several events have already taken place around the UK, giving managers the opportunity to help shape a new agenda with business education providers. Look out for its report this summer.

One of the problems that has stymied development of a participative management style has been the difficult in developing reliable metrics that demonstrate its contribution. As recently as 2009 a Harvard Business Review article noted how most managers still rely heavily on financial accounts – essentially, a 15th Century measurement tool, devised by Luca Pacioli in the 1490s – and do so out of habit and convenience, rather than empirical evidence.

While this is illogical, there is a need to have some measures of the underlying causes of business performance. To this end, the CMI is teaming with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, Investors in People, CIMA and the RSA in an initiative called ‘Valuing your Talent’. This is a research programme to help employers understand how to measure the impact their people have on the performance of their organisation. Watch out for a chance to contribute to this work during March when we’ll be looking to draw on the wisdom of crowds, making sure the project really works for managers. 

Next month: the power of role models

Submitted by Philip Wood

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