2002 - Management and leadership
Two years ago I interviewed Joseph
Juran, the management writer, at his home in Connecticut
about his role in the Japanese quality movement.
Mr Juran, now 97, retained a sharp memory for
detail. Asked why he and fellow quality guru W.
Edwards Deming could not get an audience for their
ideas in the US and Europe during the 1960s and
1970s, he blamed an over-arching concentration
on sales, among top management.
In the early 1960s he visited
Rolls-Royce Aero-Engines in the UK to deliver
a management training course. While touring the
factory, he noticed high levels of waste - procedures
and work that could be cut out of the system.
He told Sir Denning Pearson, the chief executive,
that the company would make big inroads into its
production costs if managers devoted as much time
and energy to reducing this waste as they did
to the design, manufacture and sale of engines.
The company ignored his advice.
"Reducing costs in the factories was seen
as a form of dry drudgery that wouldn't interest
top managers. I was dealing here with a caste
system and the samurai at the top were the people
able to identify sales," said Mr Juran.
The UK, he said, had lost "a
huge opportunity". The extent of this loss
became apparent in the 1980s, when carmakers began
to compare their productivity rates. In May 1980,
for example, Ford compared the labour needed to
produce its Transit van in the UK with that needed
to build a Toyota Hiace van. The total man days
needed were 12.5 for the British van, compared
with 2.4 for the Japanese van.
In spite of the introduction
of Japanese-style lean management systems into
many UK factories in the meantime, it is tempting
to ask afresh whether the caste system has changed
to any great degree. The question was raised this
week by Professor David Ashton, former director
of the Centre for Labour Market Studies at Leicester
University and co-author of a new report from
the International Labour Organisation*. The report
champions the use of various human resources practices
that, when bundled together, it says, can significantly
improve production rates.
Prof Ashton says evidence from
numerous studies has left him in no doubt that
well managed HR techniques (or "high-performance
work practices", as the new jargon has it)
can make a big difference to corporate performance.
But in too many cases in the past, says Prof Ashton,
they have been used only in a piecemeal way. Some
managements have experimented with ideas such
as self-directed teams, quality circles and multi-skilling,
he said, only to fall back into their old "command
and control" habits.
The research reflects some of
the criticism that emerged only two weeks ago
in a report from the Council for Excellence in
Management and Leadership . The report highlighted
perceived inadequacies in the quality of management
and leadership in UK organisations**.
Although part of its criticism
was aimed at business schools, the report directed
some stinging comments at government support for
entrepreneurs, which had failed, it said, to answer
their real needs.
"The confusing plethora
of government-funded initiatives for small firms,
estimated by the Treasury to cost over Pounds
600m, appears to be driven by government agenda
and funding rather than by direct demand from
The government has yet to respond
but, given its interest in improving the quality
of leadership and management in UK companies,
it seems likely that it will broadly support many
of the council's recommendations.
Where the government may find
difficulty, however, is in the area of leadership
development. The big problem with leadership is
finding a definition that suits different circumstances.
There is no shortage of suggestions. The business
book industry has been in overdrive supplying
leadership titles in the past two or three years.
Take your pick from Maximum Leadership , The Future
of Leadership , Coaching for Leadership , The
Leadership Crash Course, The Way of the Leader,
The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership , Leading
Quietly and What Leaders Really Do. This spring
we have had Alpha Leadership , Primal Leadership
, Leadership on the Line and Grow Your Own Leader.
This is just a sample of the
titles choking my bookshelves. With so many people
out front, you wonder who's bringing up the rear.
It is clear from a skim through
these titles that there are many different opinions
on what constitutes leadership . Even the CEML's
report falls into the trap of outlining a long
list of leadership and management competences
that leaves little to chance.
Most leadership books tend to
focus on chief executives rather than the qualities
of leadership that may be visible at any level
of an organisation. Another drawback with much
of the literature is that it gives no context
for the leadership and still relies on the language
of generalship. Leaders devise grand strategies
that are passed down to the troops through subordinates.
They do not make cups of tea for their colleagues.
Edward Brech, a British management
writer, remembers a time in the early 20th century
when the people who ran businesses believed they
were born to the job. Mr Brech, now 92, has just
completed a five-volume compendium detailing the
history of the UK management movement***. It does
not make for bedtime reading but it does provide
an important historical archive of British management
development, charting the first hesitant attempts
to establish management as a teachable discipline.
"When Frederick Taylor outlined
his ideas on scientific management to an engineering
conference in Birmingham in 1910," he writes,
"the chairman was disappointed because he
wanted (Taylor) to talk about steel-making techniques.
The management of work was not regarded as important
at that time."
That attitude at least has changed.
But managers need to change again. Today there
appears to be a need for a more collaborative
breed of manager, comfortable across a range of
functions. How can we describe this management
style? What about "Renaissance leadership
?" That might make a title for a book.
*Supporting Workplace Learning
for High-Performance Working, David Ashton and
Johnny Sung, ILO, Pounds 12.95, e-mail: [email protected]
** Managers and Leaders: Raising Our Game, CEML,
*** The Evolution of Modern Management, E.F.L.
Brech, Thoemmes Press, Pounds 295, www.thoemmes.com
as a pdf file