Sunday, 4 October 2009

Learn fast: things aren’t (ever) returning to “normal”.

New Zealand business managers and educators have got to transform their thinking and practice or NZ can say goodbye to “high” living standards: already down to 23rd in the OECD and in imminent danger of being overtaken by Czechoslovakia.

That was the main message I took from National Bank (NZ) Chief Economist Cameron Bagrey’s lunchtime address last Tuesday to the national conference of New Zealand Applied Business educators. They’re tertiary (but not university) educators on undergraduate Applied Business diploma and Applied Business degree programmes. I sneaked in on the coattails of my wife Sandra Barnett, an innovator and author in Applied Business education (Communication).

Bagrey confessed he’s embarrassed that his profession’s consistently got it wrong: failed to predict the current recession and doesn’t have a clue how to fix.

He says only one thing’s for certain: we can’t go back to the way it was. Anyone who thinks that things will return to “normal” is stupid. The policy makers are determined it won’t; determined we figure out new ways to do, manage and teach business and the economy. Previous answers are wrong.

He didn’t have new answers except to say that boiled down, it’s the responsibility of individuals to generate and implement new ways. He didn’t have any special advice for business educators.

I agree with Bagrey that the solution lies with individuals, though I add: individuals in collaboration not isolation, generating and learning new ways together.

I seriously doubt NZ Business Education can change from its prescriptive right-answer model any time soon, hobbled as it is by administrators and their anti-professional, centralised rules and controls, and know-no-better student and employer market.

I’m sceptical too that NZ business managers can abandon their manager-knows-best, right-answer approach any time soon: go deeper than recite the superficial lists of “secrets” peddled in popular business management literature.

Actually the answers have been there for more than 20 years (e.g. Drucker and Senge), effectively ignored: except perhaps in Business student essays and Management band-aids, quick fixes, and fads.

Here’s the guts: (really) involve everyone; confess ignorance (starting at the top); spend time together generating a long term goal that everyone’s passionate about but not sure how to achieve; get very clear on the medium term strategy and short term goals that stand to take you towards the long term; openly generate and agree clear individual and collective accountabilities in achieving the change; openly measure progress to keep individuals and groups (at all levels) openly accountable for their contribution; continually review and revise in the light of individual and collective experience; take every opportunity to talk about the long term goal and the actual action and progress towards it.

And another thing: get long-term (2 yr) outside help from experienced change execution specialists. Be sure that they too are accountable for progress.

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