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The End of Old-style Management Styles?

We had a hard time in the 1970s with under-acheiving managers, ingrained sexism and ageism, and a lack of specialist training. Britain has turned a corner since then …

Anyone British of a certain age will remember domineering boss CJ in 1970s TV comedy series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. CJ was an autocratic but ineffectual manager who made his staff’s lives difficult while not actually achieving very much as a result. CJ perhaps reflected the prevailing attitude at the time towards management.

1970s Management: CJ from Sunshine Desserts

If anyone could benefit from a Management course it’s Reggie Perrin’s boss, CJ

As Lucy Kellaway remarked in her Radio 4 series History of Office Life , “In the UK scientific management was never taken up with much enthusiasm, which was mainly because, at least until the second half of the 20th Century, British managers were pretty much amateurs. After World War II, all our proudest companies were run not by people who had the first clue about business but by generals. They believed in one thing only – hierarchy.”

Kellaway says this mentality was the reason the UK didn’t have a proper business school until 1965, more than a century behind the US and Europe.

Lizz Clarke, chair of the business advisory board at the University of Portsmouth Business School and one of the founders of Business Solent, remembers such attitudes from when she set out in business in the 1980s.


“Sexism was rampant,” she says. “A director of a corporation once said to me – and he meant it in a kind, fatherly way:

‘don’t repeat what I’m about to say, because I’ll deny saying it, but you won’t get any further because they won’t accept a woman any higher than you are right now’.

“In 2011 the same organisation appointed one woman among six new board appointments – better than none! I think that was an intrinsic part of organisations – men in grey suits at the top, who knew best. Old-school managers, in an era when you did your time and got promoted, who were used to having their own way and who didn’t think too hard about their impact on others.”

Clarke says that as well as sexism, there was a general lack of respect towards staff.

“When I left my first employer, a PLC, the commercial director was told to carry out an exit interview. He didn’t really want to do it; he had completely the wrong attitude. He sat me down and looked at his file and said ‘I know all about you, Kate’. Kate was the person who’d taken the promotion I’d wanted and my lack of promotion was the reason I was leaving. That director didn’t know me from Eve.”

Management Training Has Made All The Difference

Clarke, who is managing director of Logical Creative Marketing (LCM), says education has helped to reduce those attitudes.

“Education plays a huge part and as well as formal management courses that includes government initiatives like Investors in People – which has made a massive difference.”

Learning the fundamentals of Management is key

Learning the fundamentals of Management is key

Changes in employment law have also had a big effect, she says. “Companies wouldn’t act now like they used to. Employment law can sometimes be seen as having gone too far in the other direction, but as an employer I’ve found it can be helpful in setting guidelines to work within, that actually aren’t too hard for the employer to follow.”

But the biggest change has arguably been the phenomenal growth of the Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME).

“A business owner knows what side their bread’s buttered and they will take the best person for the job,” says Clarke. “They don’t give a stuff whether that’s male or female, black or white, young or old.”

To illustrate this point, Clarke says that one of her most senior employees is just 23 years old.

“She has much better management aptitudes than the rest of us. She loves organising and knows how to handle people so they understand what’s expected of them, which is a vital management function. The important thing is that a candidate loves managing – and most people don’t.”

Management training courses, she says, help students to better understand the part they play in business. She cites neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and emotional intelligence as areas that are worth getting to grips with for modern managers because of the opportunity for improved self-knowledge and relationships.

At the end of the day management is all about people and that means that the right attitude can be as vital as the right qualifications.

“As long ago as the 1920s, Dale Carnegie emphasised attitude over aptitude,” says Clarke. “If someone’s better at management it doesn’t matter how old they are – or how experienced they are, actually – if they have a fire in their belly. Inside competencies and frameworks and KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] and those other cold, management-speak words, what we’re really talking about is managing people, so that you can get people to do what you need them to do, to get the job done.”

Just read A Message to Garcia to see that business lessons can be learnt from natural aptitude.

Do you agree that the development of management and management training make for a more ‘level playing field’? Let us know in the comments below …

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