I am not someone who revels in retrospection. I prefer to look forward.
As a sage once said, 'Everyone is interested in the future. After all, it's where we live for the rest of our lives.' But key moments of change offer an ideal opportunity for reflection and assessment.
My time at the Institute of Management (IM) has come to an end. I have decided that it is time for me to take on new challenges and to pass the baton on. The position of director general offers a unique perspective on UK plc and an opportunity to chart what is happening to management.
Equally, it opens a window on what the key management challenges are likely to be as we move into the millennium.
When I took on the role of director general in 1991, the economy was depressed, companies downsizing, managers dispirited. Our research on the business environment that year painted a pessimistic picture. Markets were contracting and restructuring was endemic. More importantly, the focus of that restructuring was jobs. More than half of the companies surveyed were projecting job cuts at all levels and preparing for dramatic shake-outs of management layers. Executives were anticipating the growth of flexible working, although it was seen at the time purely as an effective stop-gap strategy designed to plug erratic and unpredictable demand for labour.
IM research into management learning and development in 1992 showed that many organisations were taking a short-term view that bordered on myopia.
They needed to make their assets sweat and people were no exception. Long-term career and personal development planning was shelved in the drive for immediate tangible results. In the face of delayering, managers themselves were uncertain and insecure. Motivation and morale were suffering in the conflict between managers' demands for long-term development and the unwillingness of organisations to deliver. Research showed that only 9% of managers were women. There were stories of the 'old boy network' throwing obstacles in the path of women's career aspirations and of organisations failing to support the development of women managers.
Looking at the management scene in 1998, much has changed. In the current environment of steady economic growth, the vast majority of companies report growing markets and business leaders tend to be bullish about their prospects. Our research shows that, although restructuring remains a significant feature of the corporate landscape, the focus has changed. It tends to concentrate on issues of business process and performance improvement and to involve and integrate employees in the exercise. Improvements in understanding and meeting customer need, strategic planning and team working are cited as the top reasons for restructuring.
Flexibility is now more integral to long-term corporate strategy and it is a powerful mechanism enabling corporate and individual objectives to be met. Organisations need flexible employees to meet the demands of today's consumer for products and services to be delivered increasingly on a round-the-clock basis. But much of the demand for flexibility comes from employees themselves, who are seeking a better balance between home and work lives. What is equally encouraging is that flexible employees are being offered benefits and support similar to that of their full-time colleagues.
The news on management development is also much more encouraging. In recent research, we found that more than 40% of larger organisations now have a formal written statement or policy on management development and 45% of organisations give it high priority.
This is a transformation from the situation in the late-1980s when almost no organisations gave management development a high priority. Most managers now receive some form of training and the amount of training is creeping up (currently some five days a year on average). Despite these improvements, I would counsel against complacency. There is still much to be done before we truly cement management learning and development into the UK corporate culture.
On the issue of women in management, the story is also one of improvement.
According to our research, 15.2% of executives are women - a 69% increase on 1992. This figure tends to disguise the particular success of women managers in disciplines that are now central to the UK's services-driven economy. For example, 48% of personnel managers, 32% of marketing managers and one in four financial services managers are women. What is also significant is the striking similarity in the values, aspirations and approaches to work among both male and female managers.
The one continuing theme has been stress. Our research consistently finds high levels of stress among managers. The reasons for it have changed.
In the early 1990s, the causes were the threat of redundancy, job insecurity and increased workloads brought about by fewer people in work. Now, growth has brought with it new causes; rapid change, information overload and long working hours, often because of the amount of work needing to be done.
So what does the future hold? Certainly, a greater recognition of the role that employees can play in the success of an organisation. A realisation that people are the key assets and that for them to remain valuable in a changing environment, they need constant training and support, and by keeping employees' skills current, organisations have a built-in flexibility which adds to job security and reduces stress. But, although more organisations are investing in people, it still behoves employees to plan and implement their own development throughout their lifetime.
After recent structural changes, our Institute is now better able to respond quickly and effectively to the changing needs of individual managers throughout their careers. We offer all the stakeholders in UK plc access to research, knowledge and lifelong learning support necessary for well-being and more wealth creation in the next millennium. I leave confident that the Institute of Management is in good shape and good hands to play its role in meeting the needs of the millennium manager.
Director general of the Institute of Management 'What does the future hold?
A realisation that people are the key assets and that, for them to remain valuable in a changing environment, they need constant training and support; and that, by keeping employees' skills current, organisations have a built-in flexibility which adds to job security and reduces stress'.