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Management Master Class
Kishore R Deshpande
Monday, October 1, 2007
You would not go to an unqualified doctor to treat a disease nor allow an unlicensed driver to drive you around the city. However, unfortunately, many companies put their financial health and employees’ well being in the hands of untrained managers.

Engineers and architects deal with the exacts: In building a bridge in Australia and Africa the stress limitations and the load factors are the same. Attorneys and solicitors deal with specific sets of rules. Doctors can expect patients with similar problems in different parts of the world to react to similar treatments in the same fashion. But, the ‘manager’s world’ is completely different. Different people definitely do not respond to the same treatment from the same manager in a similar way, and the stress factors and load limitations vary greatly.

Our history
A decade or so ago, it was sufficient for managers to possess a fairly basic set of skills. But now, with the markets becoming more turbulent and the organizational structures more fluid and working relationship more varied and complex, many of the ideas, tools, and techniques on which today’s managers were originally trained up are turning out to be ineffective and insufficient to help them deal successfully with the demands of the new operating environment. Therefore, continuous learning has become inevitable if one has to stay ahead in competition. I cannot resist recalling what Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had three hours to cut down a tree, I would spend the first two hours sharpening my axe.” The demands on managers today are very different from that a decade, or even five years, ago.
* Traditional hierarchies are being replaced by fast moving cross-functional teams and department management is giving way to project and team management.
* We do not talk of improving our internal efficiency but link every business process to our focus on the customer.
* Success is a result of creativity, flexibility, and speed and not a product of tight budgeting, discipline, and control.
* Competition is giving way to strategic alliances and partnerships.
* Market dominance and money in the bank are proving to be less important than an organization’s ability to adapt, develop its people, and learn.

Twenty years ago, General Motors had vast financial assets (factories, machineries, stocks, cash) and Honda had very little in comparison; Xerox was a giant whereas Canon was tiny; IBM was a dominant colossus while Microsoft had not yet been formed. According to the assets valuation on the balance sheet GM, XEROX, and IBM were monsters with the power to crush any upstart competition. But then, the balance sheets only measured and projected physical capital – not the ideas, talent, and flexibility of the workforce.

Most investors nowadays would rather put their hard earned savings into Canon, Microsoft, and Honda than in the bruised and battered former heavy weights.

New business model - ideas, tools, and people
Today’s business organizations face more intense competition than ever before. The competition is at a global level and quality and service are no longer optional. They are the entry fees for today’s global market place and the only way to stay alive in business. Innovation, team approach, customer focus, transition from manager to performer and from manager to doer, result oriented approach, and increasing profitability are among the essentials of today’s business managers.

We cannot fake the culture of trust and empowerment that produces superb products and services in a time frame that the market demands. Global competition has taught us the same lesson nature teaches us on the farm, ‘As you sow so you reap.’

Organizations need competitive edge rather than financial capital
In the past, managers were provided with many ideas – management by objectives, total quality, one minute management, portfolio management, the seven ‘S’s, theories of X,Y, and Z, re-engineering, the learning organization, and virtual organization were among them. Each of these will have something valuable to offer, but none of them provided a complete answer.

It is in this context that the role of using Management Master Class to inspire innovation and creativity cannot be underestimated. For example, if we retain a cumbersome and hierarchical functional structure that prevents departments from working well together, we cannot build a customer-centric and flexible strategy that takes the input and experience of those who are closest to the market and the customers.

Team spirit and networking cannot be fostered if the measurement and reward systems encourage functional managers to build private empires and work for their localized departmental interests.

It should be noted that for the first time in the history of our country, companies have started realizing the importance of using new and innovative methods of management, to be in tune with today’s complex global business environment. We witness a plethora of problems today, like:
1. High attrition among the employees at all levels, especially at the low and middle levels.
2. Absence of commitment to work. Work ethics have undergone a vast change.
3. There is a mutual distrust between the manager and the managed.
4. The challenge of understanding the new technology that demands continuous learning.
5. A young demography at the work place. Many are very young and fresh from colleges and universities and lack an understanding of the work environment and its expectations.
6. The exploding developments in science and technology have forced many large multinational companies to outsource many of their operations leading to mushroom growth of outsourcing companies. The new entrants are sometimes unable to distinguish between such IT, ITES, or BPO companies.

The old predictable career path and well-defined management methods in which many of us have grown up will never return. We must all adapt to a new, more turbulent environment and this will require us to be flexible and to continuously upgrade our skills. We can no longer assume that what we learnt in our colleges will be sufficient to carry us through the rest of our lives. A new model has replaced the concept of ‘life time learning’ where the ‘period of education’ is swiftly followed by ‘life of work.’

There is a need to inculcate work ethics inspired by excellence. Excellence does not mean being equal, it means being better. This is possible by superior performance in every sphere of activity as people combine intelligence and experience in achieving the best results. This demands discipline, corporate integrity, and business morality, which in turn call for innovation and creativity. Corporate managers need to be more creative and flexible to bring in excitement at work and to steer their organizations to the pinnacle of success in the 21st century.

The author is Head – Human Resources, Webex Communications India. He can be reached at kishore.deshpande@webex.com
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