So far as status and complacency is concerned, it is a time of destabilisation in management. The old order may not have changed but it is being assailed by a wave of new philosophies on how things should be done. This billow is gathering speed and at least a superficial acceptance which might grow to be real and overwhelming. Security of tenure perished some time ago. If gold watches for long service survive at all it will only be because the length of service is reduced from 25 years or more to perhaps as little as five. If you fancy one, you had better buy your own. At least you will be able to choose your own inscription.
Security will lie, it seems, in the self-knowledge of the individual; their ability to adapt, to change, and to suss out the market so that they know where they might head next when the inevitable happens. Managers will not be exempt from this, as many of them have already found. In fact their self-perception is likely to be more challenged than that of the traditionally lowly, with the concomitant stress that this implies. That apparently ageless sage, Peter F Drucker, now 83 (see Other Business, p79), who has a pretty fair record of being right, recently pronounced that managers would have to learn to manage in situations where they didn't command authority and were neither controlled nor controlling. Disorientating. He is even uncomfortable with the word manager because it implies there are subordinates. He prefers executive because it suggests responsibility for an area and not necessarily dominion over people. What a readjustment that will involve.
There is no shelter in size: big organisations have discovered that they are on shifting sand, and, in many cases, are looking to alliances that they would once surely have thought infra dig.
The most massive changes, it might be thought, will not happen until tomorrow. But today, of course, is the tomorrow you dreamed about (or even feared) yesterday. It comes quickly. Exciting isn't it? Frightening, too.
If we were to wrap all this up in a word, we would nowadays have to call it 'culture'. It is a word that derives from the Latin for tillage, but until now that etymology, with its connotation of careful husbandry and nurture, has had little resonance in many parts of working life. More often it meant what the chairman or chief executive wanted it to mean, or what developed when neither bothered about it. Now it is being forked over continuously because it has become clear that change is necessary for survival and the old systems of authority are not up to it.
In this issue we look at a corner of a British field where a benign and profitable effect is claimed to have been achieved by a change of culture. It is in an industry which has not so much had its back to the wall as perhaps been prey to fears that there was no wall behind it at all: nuclear power (see Nuclear Electric's Culture Shock, p26).
It is an industry, somewhat unloved, that might be thought not so much to need a song to ensure its future suppers as a whole opera. But as Chairman Mao, most of whose management theories are now in disrepute, once said, 'The longest march begins with the first step.' Nuclear Electric took its first steps a little time ago and is happy but not complacent about its boldness. Those watching their step, and wondering, might be heartened.