Since I last sat down to blog things have changed around me. Inside my own little organisation of the family, we have faced the husband’s surgery and convalescence; put up with the loss of mobility caused by the fact he can’t drive yet and I don’t, and are now having to face the daunting task of moving house! There has been a lot of time for sitting and musing and pondering on the problems of life.

Inevitably the problems facing not just Australia but world wide have been one of the things I have been pondering about during my enforced contemplation time.

How much do you understand about the present economic crisis? Hmmm I thought so; unless you are up to your ears in the financial industry your understanding, like mine, is going to be a little hazy. Even among themselves the experts tend to disagree about the root cause, except for blaming it on the Americans!

Having time on my hands over the New Year I did some research to see if I could get a better understanding of the problems and the possible consequences for Trischel. My first port of call was the influential Wall Street Journal where John H. Makin gives an in-depth summary of the problems facing the American Markets. Over at the Practical Small Business Blog the reasoning is probably a little less sophisticated but the basis appears to be the same. He tells us that –

“First of all, with mortgages far too easy to purchase and very little scrutiny, bad mortgages ran rampant. “Flippers” used shaky data to arrange credit for sight-unseen real estate with the intent to sell before the first payment was ever made. Risky mortgages were bundled into securities and sold on Wall Street. Big funds, frenzied for a higher rate of return, ignored the risks. All resulting in the creation of a “perfect storm.” This was followed up by lack of oversight by the Federal Reserve. This is what has ushered us into this recession of 2008.”

All of this is interesting of course and I dare say that there are a number of people who could explain in detail how all this has caused such a global impact; but this was not the basis for my ponderings.

Because I have been digging through some of my memorabilia I have been focussing a lot on my early career first in the military and then in the Training and Development field. I have been boring the family with my pleasant recollections of “how things were” and driving them insane with less than complimentary comparisons with modern day mores and manners!

“Things change, Mom” my daughter reminded me – which of course is true, but you know I think the problem is that many of us do not change with them. What I mean is that the values and attitudes that I bring to my life today often reflect the values and attitudes that I absorbed early in my working life.

I have been known to wax lyrical about the lowering standards in the Australian Defence Force – much to the disgust of my son who only recently retired. “Things change, Mom” he said! And of course they do, but my attitudes and values are those of an earlier time.

The reason I am baring my soul like this is that I wondered if the values and attitudes of the present senior managers are also those of an earlier time.

I have a very large library (a fact which fills me with despair when I contemplate moving) and among my many ‘archived’ books are management training manuals from the early 1990’s, Working on the possibility that our modern day senior managers also absorbed their values and attitudes early their career I wondered what basics they were taught. It was an interesting exercise.

I would imagine that most of our middle and senior managers are familiar with the book “Managing” by Jon Pierce and Randy Dunham (Scott, Foresman/Little, Brown Higher Education, USA, 1990). It was in many circles the definitive teaching tool of the early 1990’s. In the first chapter it examines the nature of management and highlights some of the realities of being a manager in 1990.

The first thing that caught my attention was the acceptance of appallingly long hours. Quoting Walter Kiechel III they argue that “a sixty hour week is now standard among young ‘workaholics’ and seventy, eighty and ninety- hour weeks are not unheard of” (Ibid p10).

Now I don’t know about you, but I would be really reluctant to place my life and future in the hands of a pilot who regularly worked at such a pace. We understand that such jobs as train drivers, truck drivers and pilots (among many others) require adequate rest time to function effectively. They need to have the mental sharpness to make instant decisions that impact directly on other people’s lives. I wonder how much rest time the pilot of the plane that went down in the Hudson River had.

Are we now saying that people who make decisions that will impact not just on their own organisations but world wide do not need to have the same? Are the decisions that they make so unimportant that they don’t have to be on the top of their game? Do we really believe that they can function effectively with the bare minimum of rest and relaxation and their decision making will not be impaired? If we do … then we have a problem.

Another aspect of the task of managing which I found surprising when I revisited Managing was the fact that –

”most managers … will spend most of this time working inside your own organisation. Despite the importance of outside factors – such as customers, competitors, and suppliers – most managers spend little time interacting directly with these groups. They spend 95 percent of their time inside the walls of their own workplace.” (Ibid p10)

Is this still true? Does this describe you? If so …. get up and get out of the office. Go and explore the outside world and most of all talk to your customers. They are far more important to you right now that anything you can find within your workplace … er, finish reading this first though!!!!

No organisation exists in a vacuum, and the 1980’s books on management accepted that, but rather than teach young managers how to work within the existing environment, they were taught that it was their responsibility – nay their duty – to influence, control and ‘manage their task environment’ for the benefit of their organisations. If we think about the latter day activities of some corporate giants we can see that many of them took this advice to heart.

I am beginning to believe that the present economic problems had their seeds in the way in which our managers were taught about their roles back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The attitudes and values that they absorbed during their early training probably laid the foundation for some of the unfortunate decisions that have led us here. The causes are not in their actions, but in the reasons for those actions; and those reasons are an outcome of their early training.

I wonder what seeds for the future we are planting right now!

Michele @ Trischel

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