Just what is it that we want from our global business leaders? If recent successes and failures are anything to go by, companies seem to know what they don’t want, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Thick skin is probably a pre-requisite as CEOs and managing directors are increasingly appointed, adored, found to be wanting and then ejected within a timescale of a few years.
Globalisation and technology have certainly had a huge impact on businesses worldwide, but do successful leaders need to have global experience or have knowledge of IT beyond knowing how to turn on their laptop?
The likelihood is that they do, but that the ability to think beyond these disciplines is more important. Just as finance directors need to know less about the nuts and bolts of accounting than a junior accountant, so a CEO needs to understand fully the implications and opportunities that the web is opening up, but not the ins and outs of Java technology.
Having said that, a reliance on administration staff to deal with e-mails and research on the web will not be tolerated much longer. Financial processes are not the only administrative tasks that are being automated; many senior executives are now doing without PAs, and, indeed, with offices. The managing director who has his secretary print out his e-mails for him and send back his dictated response is a dying breed.
CIMA’s Global Business Management Week, supported by the Institute of Directors, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and the Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership, has been launched as part of a wider drive to clear the way for the business leaders of the future, and to enable businesses to nurture their people. But the research commissioned to accompany the various events held during the week has thrown up some interesting findings.
The value placed on particular character traits of future leaders has been compared across regions. Qualities for managers of the future as opposed to ones admired in business leaders today have also been compared and are not necessarily the same.
CIMA’s research, carried out by the City Research Group, and covering nearly 400 senior executives chosen from the top organisations in each of the regions studied (Europe; Asia; USA and Middle East), throws up some interesting challenges for businesses worldwide.
It also reveals some less than wonderful attitudes among UK directors.
People are considered important universally; the current skills shortage has seen to that. But there are huge discrepancies in the flexibility they are allowed and the benefits they are offered.
Another issue that seems to grate across geographical borders is the pressure of work. We are all working longer and harder, and technological developments are not helping.
But the real challenge that all businesses face is how to generate success in the future. Profitability is still the key to success in final terms, but to get there do we need to change fundamentally the way we approach things?
FDs and CEOs are having to grapple with issues such as corporate governance, ethical business practices, innovation, flexible working and globalisation, unsure which of them are the areas to focus on and which are simply fads.
Will non-ethical companies soon be ousted by their switched-on competitors, or does too much focus on the environment and community distract us from the job at hand?
Can employers ever really provide a working environment that is flexible enough for those with families while providing stability for those who want it? Should we be listening more to our stakeholders, or do too many cooks necessarily spoil the broth, as Dome executives discovered recently?
The trick in business has always been to navigate a course carefully between autocracy and democracy – business leaders must have a clear direction, but be willing to listen to stakeholders (whether investors, employees or business partners) and, above all, get their buy-in. And if their strategy turns out to be the wrong one, the done thing is generally to fall on their sword.
But too much falling on swords can begin to look like scape-goating.
Equally, unless stakeholders allow strategies time to work, business leaders will find themselves in the same position as democratic governments, working along short term lines to make sure that they are not ‘voted out’ by the board.
In an environment where dot.coms are proclaimed to be the saviours of the economy one week and a disaster zone the next; where basket-ball hoops in the office and dress-down policies are seen to be essential corporate strategy that tell the world a company is ‘innovative’ where we are constantly inundated with e-mails, voicemails and pager messages and still seem to spend half our time in meetings, it is easy to grow cynical.
Perhaps the real leaders of the future will be those who are able to cut through the puff, to distinguish genuine innovation from re-hashing of old ideas, to be able to put good, old fashioned management techniques to work in a changing environment and to be unconcerned about short term ups and downs.
One thing is certain: good financial management will always be the basis on which good businesses are built, and whether or not finance professionals are the leaders of the future, their ability to translate ideas into strategy will never diminish in importance.
Processes may be automated and even analysis may be consigned to software solutions, but the common sense and commercial acumen that management accountants acquire will always be in demand.
As the New Millennium Experience Company discovered this month, unless you understand the figures, you can’t help but trip up.
If you understand the business, you may just make it.
– Accountancy Age will be publishing highlights of CIMA’s research next week
JOIN IN GLOBAL MANAGEMENT WEEK ONLINE
The international business community can share in the events and findings of CIMA’s Global Business Management Week by visiting a special website.
GBM Week, which takes place next week, is an initiative undertaken across all divisions of CIMA aimed to highlight the challenges facing business over the next few decades, such as globalisation and technology advances.
The site – www.cimaglobal.com/gbmw/gbm.htm – can be accessed via CIMA’s central homepage, will be dedicated to providing constantly updated information on the schedule for GBM Week as the final details of the programming are unveiled.
The website will provide comprehensive information on the business lectures, debates and workshops taking place across the globe as part of the week.
These include a lecture by the CFO of Ericsson Hong Kong and the highly anticipated results release of a far-reaching survey conducted among senior executives worldwide, which will probe into issues ranging from global management skills to stress in the workplace.
Mike Jeans, CIMA president and former head of UK Consulting at KPMG, said: ‘The GBM Week website is designed to be a vital support tool for members, students and the business community at large providing them with up to the minute information on the orchestration of the week’s events.
The calibre of the events scheduled is underlined by the grade of the senior figures who have chosen to collaborate with CIMA during the week.
We plan for GBM Week to become a regular fixture in the business calendar, rousing businesses to adopt an international perspective and to embrace the opportunity to become active participants in the global village.’
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