The changing face of management

Corporate life is under the microscope. Monica Seeley peruses the management journals for the past quarter to discover the issues...

Corporate life is under the microscope. Monica Seeley peruses the management journals for the past quarter to discover the issues facing today's managers

The 21st Century Corporation, published by Business Week (21 August) is an excellent starting point as a general article that gives a pr‚cis of many of the management issues that have been raised in the past quarter. It covers just about every aspect of corporate working life, from crafting a creative economy to leadership styles, the latest technological developments and how they will revolutionise work.

Nuggets include the suggestion that organisations will increasingly look to use free agents as they continue to focus on what they do best and "farm out the rest to partners" and employ staff on a just-in-time basis: the winners will be those who manage their knowledge assets; authority will continue to be pushed down rather than up the corporation.

We will be motivated to co-operate and build rather than compete; in this culture we may see the demise of the role of the chief operating officer. While the function will remain, it will be executed by the team rather than one person. There will still be CEOs but their jobs will become more complex and intertwined with that of others such as the chief Web officer.

As for the fabric of the organisation, large, fixed-structure monolithic office blocks will be replaced by open plan, mutable offices which even have areas which are devoid of technology. These new structures will be designed to engender creativity.

Within the pages of the reputable management journals, there have been three constant themes over the past few months. They are: maintaining a healthy work-life balance; the age-old issue of successful staff retention; and what makes a good leader. Below is a summation of the main articles:

Work-life balance

The most dominant issues in this quarter's slew of publications relate to the work-life balance. Several recent surveys have shown that the UK working week is one of the longest in Europe (about a 70-hour week compared to a 60-hour week in Germany). We are becoming ever more like our American counterparts who also work long hours and take fewer holidays (about four weeks per year).

The introduction of the mobile phone and the home office means people are increasingly expected to be available at any time. The third Management Today work-life survey (August 2000) is insightful. The direct relationship between long working hours and levels of stress is not new. Neither are the suggested solutions such as flexible working hours and providing a family-friendly work environment. But it is becoming more pronounced by our love affair with our mobile phones and e-mail.

These are now seen as one of the big sources of stress and intrusion into our non-working lives. A recent survey from Carey Cooper at the University of Manchester Institute of Technology revealed that while on leave 35% of employees listen to their voice mail every day and 20% call in. Despite what the macho managers among us might like to think, taking a proper break from work is vital to maintaining a healthy disposition.

Flexible hours and mobile working are being advocated as ways to restore the work-life balance, but unless implemented properly they can just add to the tension and serve to extend the day even further. Management Today advocates that the key to restoring the work-life balance lies with the individual who must learn to say "no" and prioritise for themselves, and not duck the issue by relying on the boss to do so.

If you are considering adopting either a flexible working and, or, mobile working policy, Director (July 2000) has some practical advice on dos and don'ts, such as creating trust, providing a good means of social communication to make up for the missed coffee machine chats, and making sure you understand all the legal employer obligations.

The home-office approach is still in its infancy as the technology improves and more people demand a better work-life balance. Organisations which have made it work include Glaxo and BT (see Carey Cooper, People Management, May 2000).

Other inter-linked themes are dress code and the design of the corporate office. Both Director and Management Today have carried some practical advice on the issues. For example, apparently we work best in an environment which is sociable and resembles the outdoors but without the distractions such as rain. On the dress-down front, it is not good enough just to wear any old smart trousers and a jacket, they still need to be fashionable, well cut and preferably carry a designer label.

All this suggests you ditch your Marks & Spencer shares and invest in firms which specialise in converting the space under the stairs into a high-tech office!

Retaining and recruiting

Attracting and retaining the right staff still pervades many boardroom discussions. To compound the matter there are no easy solutions. Indeed the evidence as to best practice is itself contradictory. Some surveys indicate that employees just want a straight salary package with no frills, just money in the bank. Others suggest that as we become more community conscious and focused on our work-life balance, the provision of crŠches, healthy meals, a gym and access to online shopping help increase staff motivation and loyalty. But beware how far you let the pendulum swing towards family values. The Management Today work-life survey revealed that becoming too child conscious can cause resentment among childless workers.

In recent times we have seen a flood of defections to dotcoms. However, the tide is turning. Recent surveys by the Economic Policy Unit and Business Week have revealed that in the US, more mature workers are still one of the most highly-prized commodities. In particular it is these managers who have the ability to harness and manage information and use it to solve problems and create satisfied customers. Their maturity also helps them manage the fine dividing line between running a rigid organisation which stifles creativity and allowing too much creativity which can lead to chaos (Seely, Brown and Duguid, Harvard Business Review, May/June 2000).

Gerchak and Golany in the European Journal of Operational Research (August 2000) review the relationship between the use of recruitment agencies and staff turnover, and staff turnover and productivity. Surprisingly, they find that increased turnover can lead to improved productivity.

However, this might not be so surprising in the light of a recent article by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times (18 September 2000) which revealed that a number of consultancies are using the dotcom drain as an opportunity to review their staffing needs and structure. They are automatically re-instating the dotcom deserters who found the grass is far from greener outside the bricks and clicks office.


Creating effective leadership is one of those age-old problems which has re-emerged, probably for two reasons. Firstly, many of today's top business leaders are coming up for retirement. Secondly, the fall-out in the dotcom market has revealed an underlying lack of good management practice.

To some extent this begs the question of what makes a good leader. While many books have been written on this topic, one which has recently appeared is Leading The Revolution by Garry Hamel. Based on his study of some of today's "grey-haired revolutionaries" he provides a framework of the skills and processes involved in being both creative and having the ability to take the organisation along with you.

Hamel's premise is the need to continually re-invent oneself and the organisation by daring to think the unimaginable. For example, if you are a utility company, how can you cash in on the new developments in bandwidth? An example nearer home might be how can the IT department become an integral part of the organisation's sustainable development policy?

Allied to leadership is the ability to manage change. Abrahamson's Change Without Pain in Harvard Business Review (July/August) provides some advice on how to create change without too much pain. The article is based on his research into large US multinationals over the past 10 years (such as IBM, GE and American Express). While he acknowledges that change is essential to stay alive, he advocates creating an environment of dynamic stability. This is achieved by alternating major change with incremental change and creating organic change though what he calls "tinkering and kludging" (tinkering on a large scale).

Traditionally, one associates outsourcing with the management of hard quantifiable resources such as IT, building maintenance and fleet management etc. Not so, advocates Quinn in Outsourcing Innovation: The New Engine For Growth (Sloan Management Review, Summer 2000). Innovation, he says, is a complex process and as such there are times when it is best to look to an external source. He cites pharmaceutical research as an example. Like conventional outsourcing, to outsource innovation successfully requires building trust with the supplier and an agreed scorecard.

Handfield-Jones's How Executives Grow in McKinsey Quarterly (Number 1, 2000) sheds new light on the controversial argument about whether to grow your top executives from inside or hire in new ones from outside. She suggests that the best organisations grow their own talent, and that the most effective development process is through providing a job experience programme.

Her five-point development plan includes providing managers with challenging new posts through pooling top staff and resisting the urge to put the best qualified person in the post rather assign someone who will learn from the experience.

Goffee and Jones (Harvard Business Review) have reviewed many of the current theories on leadership in an attempt to identify what are the key traits of a great leader. They identify four: selective revelation of their weaknesses; heavy reliance on intuition; managing with "tough empathy"; and utilising the characteristics which differentiate them from the rest of the pack.

21st century skills

Reading Business Week's The 21st Century Corporation may not tell you anything you do not know, but it helps crystallise those nagging concerns about the skills and behaviours we may all need to master in order to survive. It is well written, even if it succumbs to journalistic hype in places.

Take a break

  • Did you take your mobile and/or laptop on holiday?

  • How many times did you log in to contact the office?

  • How did the rest of your family feel about this?

  • What would have happened if you had not contacted the office?

    Key reading

  • Change Without Pain by Abrahamson in Harvard Business Review, July/August

  • Leading The Revolution by Garry Hamel

  • The third Management Today work-life survey, August 2000

  • The Work Issue, Director, July 2000

  • Balancing Act: How To Capture Knowledge Without Killing It, by Seely, Brown and Duguid, Harvard Business Review, May/June 2000

    Useful URLs

  • Business Week (

  • Management Today (

  • Director (

  • People Management (

  • Economic Policy Unit (

  • Harvard Business Review

  • European Journal of Operational Research (

  • Financial Times (

  • Sloan Management Review (

  • McKinsey Quarterly (

  • Read more on IT jobs and recruitment