Contemporary management is obsolete

Sep 09 2008 by Robert Heller Print This Article

Management has never been generally thought of as an exciting or thrilling activity. But this is mostly due to ignorance. Only a small proportion of people have direct experience of what's involved in management, what managers are like, and the enormous difference effective management styles can make in the world.

You would have expected the excitement quotient to have risen in the 20th and 21st centuries. After all, management is 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.

However, these five words from Gary Hamel strike at the heart of management today: "Management is out of date." Hamel 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 management guru with the respect and reputation of Hamel makes such a statement, it's time to sit up and take notice. It's also time to be concerned.

The obsolescence of contemporary management styles, Hamel argues, results from a lack of meaningful evolution. Managers are failing to take advantage of a unique moment in history, the point where the gathering pace of change opens the door to revolution, to new types and methods of organisation.

So brilliantly fast is the pace of change that new product generations are being completed when earlier ones are being launched. And when it comes to people, you can't wait around for novices to learn the ropes. They work in a new climate of speed, early achievement and fast tracking that is way ahead of the traditional method of slow and steady movement towards the top.

The tenets of the new management shouldn't be hard to grasp and exploit. However, if you look for evidence of widespread adoption of new technology to pioneer and establish new management styles, what do you find?

The example of contacting a company for customer service shows gross neglect. Surely everyone must know the sad reality of what now passes for customer service.

Even if you're lucky enough to find the right e-mail, telephone number or even department, getting a human being to speak to you is nigh-on impossible. Instead you are confronted with a hellish loop of inexpert automation.

All the more frustrating 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 terrible experience as their customers.

But it's a long-standing and unspoken tradition of management that you shouldn't sample your own products or processes; presumably because learning the truth might force you into devoting time and money in order to improve the operation.

Like the majority of men and women, as they age most managers get evermore unwilling to learn new lessons, master new practices and practise what they preach. That's bad news for them, and equally bad news for the people whom they lead – or attempt to lead.

Change in society is being matched by generational change inside the organisation. The corporate young shouldn't be so corporate as their seniors and certainly shouldn't be boring. But everybody loses if they live and work in a boring business led by boring managers.

Great prizes can be won if management styles can keep up with the pace of change – not least the satisfaction of being neither bored nor boring, but instead leading a new era.

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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".