Globally, senior management as a profession is underperforming. A chronic case of under-management of tasks and people has developed over the years on the back of management fads and copy cat management replacing focused, systemic thought.
In the environment that this poor style of management and communication creates, enterprising employees will create their own goals and assume their own level of responsibility. The diffusion of effort created to achieve a broad range of contradictory goals results in an underperforming organisation characterised by low morale, blame shifting and poor utilisation of human and financial assets.
Evidence for the global nature of the level of underperformance arrives every day in the morning newspaper. We are confronted with stories ranging from the recent reported ?lack of leadership? at Abu Grhaib to the apparent deliberate misreporting of profits at Tyco, WorldCom and Enron and rogue trading at the National Bank of Australia. These high profile cases, like the tip of an iceberg, are part of a much broader failure of management.
A recent survey of 133 organisations by Right Management Consultants reported that only four out of ten managers demonstrated a high level of the management abilities that their employers desired most. Three of ten managers were considered to be severely lacking in their ability to manage people.
According to the survey, the three top areas that managers and executives most need to improve are engaging people in vision and strategy 47%, development of subordinates 44% and communication skills 37%.
A common failing of managers is the application of management fads as a replacement for systemic, detailed thinking about their enterprise. We’ve had leadership excellence, management by objectives, learning organisations, game theory, business process re-engineering and knowledge management to name a few.
A related failing is the copy cat syndrome. During my time working for Shell in London I could have been forgiven for thinking that I was working for General Electric. The tools we used, the words we used and far too often the strategy we used seemed to be straight from the latest book written about or by Jack Welch. The transplanted strategies did not work, nor have they worked for other companies. The reason management fads and transplanted strategies do not work is because the competitive environment, the capabilities and constraints of each organisation and the goals of the shareholders, employees and other stakeholders are different for each organisation.
Why do senior managers fall into the traps of fads or copy cat management? Professor Steven Bainbridge from UCLA writes that herd behaviour plays a partial role. More importantly, he believes that actions considered to be consistent with conventional wisdom are, in the event of a poor decision, less likely to have a negative impact on a manger’s reputation. This is particularly true when the advice is provided by a consultant.
Here in Fiji organisations, especially the public service, are subjected to this approach in reverse. Well meaning Australian and New Zealand consultants attempt to transplant ?best practise? from an economic environment and business and country culture, which is in no way comparable with Fiji.
Another view of this ?paint by numbers? style of management is that many managers lack a feeling for their accountability. They confuse their employee’s responsibility or a consultant’s responsibility with their accountability. They forget what they get paid for, to lead and to manage their organisation’s people and to manage their enterprise’s resources to reach the goals required of them by their stakeholders.
Senior managers using this paint by numbers routine are characterised by poor communication. They tend to use buzz words acronyms and generalisations instead of specifics. They leave their employees with neither understanding of their organisation’s vision and goals nor the actions and tasks for which they are responsible.
A solution for this malaise is for senior managers to become self aware of their organisation’s capability and the factors limiting it from achieving its goals including a clear view of the environment within which they are operating. Most importantly, they need to understand their own capabilities and limitations. The former will help set focused realisable goals and actions, the latter will help fashion what they need to do to lead and manage the organisation.
It is of importance for any organisation for their leaders to be able to develop action plans aligned with strategies which are relevant to their organisation and their environment. This is especially important here in Fiji in that the future of the nation is inextricably linked to growth. Growth is linked to productivity improvements. Productivity improvements are, by definition, equal to better use of financial and human capital. Both require senior managers in Fiji to take accountability for not only leading but managing their enterprise.