Forty years later

Oct 25 2006 by Robert Heller Print This Article

The September 2006 issue of the magazine Management Today was a landmark for me, since it represented the 40th anniversary of the magazine and I was the launch editor of the publication. I also ran the title under one guise or another until finally leaving in 1987.

The 21 intervening years have seen big events and powerful changes in management trends - but nothing to match the following 15 years. Some of these shifts relate mainly to the UK, but the global changes are evident everywhere else.

The major development has been the massive increase in wealth at every level, from the nation state to personal incomes.

In 1966, the British economy had a Gross Domestic Product of £467 billion. By 2005 it had risen to £1.2 trillion, which made only eighth place in the world economic league.

But this still represents an increase of two-and-a-half times in spite of a large relative decline in manufacture, from 44 per cent to 25 per cent, the rest all consisting of services.

Now, in 2006, managers must still strive for 'hard' results using technical excellence. But they must also master the 'soft' management styles and tactics that mobilise people power.

As headhunters Heidrick & Struggles have pointed out, 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".

The duo, writing one of ten Management Today essays commissioned for the anniversary issue, are spot on. I've often highlighted a key paradox: that your most important customers are your colleagues at all levels. They depend on management to take a company in the right direction and enable everybody to share in that progress and satisfy customers. Confused leadership destroys jobs and makes the people helpless to prevent the destruction.

Two IBM essayists emphasise the positive in the leader-led relationship: "Our findings show that the higher the level of collaboration, the stronger the financial results."

Essay after essay 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"; and so on. B

ut one soft management technique is insidious and deadly and should be avoided at all costs: MBLS - Management by Lip Service.

After 40 years, more managers know what they should do and more actually do it. But there are still too many who know what to do and then do the exact opposite. Pinpointing such easy failure and eliminating it is the hard task managers should not avoid.

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About The Author

Robert Heller
Robert Heller

Robert Heller, who died aged 80 in August 2012, was Britain's most renowned and best-selling author on business management. Author of more than 50 books, he was the founding editor of Management Today and the Global Future Forum. About his latest title, The Fusion Manager, Sir John Harvey-Jones wrote: "The future lies with the thinking manager, and the thinking manager must read this book".