How has business management evolved over the years?
Over the years business leaders have frequently looked to history’s great military figures for lessons that they can apply in their organisations. Strategic and tactical concepts applied on the battlefield have often found their way into the boardroom.
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, for example, has long been a staple on the bookshelves of many business leaders. Without entering into easy comparisons between a company and its competitors as being like a battlefield, it is certainly the case that the analogy worked to describe a style of leadership that was common 20-plus years ago.
As CEO of WOBI, an organisation that has been a world leader in management and leadership content for more than 35 years, Alberto Saiz has a unique perspective on the evolution of the skills most prized by those running organisations.
“20 years ago soft skills were practically not addressed. Everything was centered around strict management matters such as strategy, organisational models, or economic and technical skills," says Saiz.
'Command and Control' was the norm in a profit-oriented and productivity-driven environment, where the primary goals centered on cost control and resource optimisation, as well as the elimination of competition. A company’s main concern was its offering, oftentimes at the expense of the needs and demands of its customers and the well-being of its employees.
“Now, in contrast, we have adopted an approach which is almost the opposite. As a leading management content producer and distributor, at WOBI we have seen the emergence of a prominent new trend over the last few years, a leadership style influenced by collaboration, inspiration and change," adds Saiz.
"Concepts like purpose, diversity, inclusion, trust, empathy and empowerment have become critical for leaders, which is exemplified in the works of new-generation authors like Simon Sinek, Amy Edmonson or Adam Grant."
This change in management is not only evident in style and approach, but with regard to the figures who represent this change.
"At our first World Business Forum New York event in 2004, we had ten speakers, including the 'father' of marketing Philip Kotler; former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch; strategy expert, Michael Porter; former President of the United States, Bill Clinton and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani," Saiz said.
"All but one of the speakers were white men over the age of fifty (the exception was Xerox CEO, Anne Mulcahy). However, today, the World Business Forum is much less homogeneous.
"Our events are a reflection of how the executive profiles have evolved significantly in companies, showcasing a more balanced representation in terms of gender, race and points of view.”
In recent years, when it comes to forming work teams, diversity has become an essential aspect of human resources. Every company aims to seek the best talent, however, this goal comes with a responsibility: the commitment to manage diversity effectively in an inclusive way.
“One of the most important drivers of new leadership practices today comes from generational change,” says Daniel Hernandez, APAC director of WOBI.
“Younger generations (millennials and Gen Z) are now predominant in high-level positions of management, which automatically transforms leadership styles.”
The new generations have different expectations and approaches when it comes to labor and the workforce. They believe that flexibility is critical in terms of working hours and remote working, and they value finding purpose in their work. Therefore, companies that prioritise sustainability and revolve their mission around improving society are more effective in attracting new talent.
This transformation has evolved in tandem with various initiatives like employee empowerment, employee training and development, decentralised structures, and new team collaboration models stemming from the rise of remote work.
Can we identify a common denominator among all these trends of change in management? Is there a key factor that helps us both comprehend and embrace this evolution?
Daniel Hernandez has no doubt that a radical transformation has occurred, driven by technology.
"We are infinitely more productive. In the past, those who created technology held the most power. Today, in contrast, technology is a commodity and it is the people who have become the differentiating force in companies," Hernandez said.
He shares an interesting story, “When we established the World Business Forum, we had fax machines to process registrations and 20-plus individuals on the events team. Today, we are now seven people on the team in the office, and registrations are automated through the website through e-commerce.”
The evolution has been consistent, but rapid. What may seem unimaginable today, was once an integral component of every company’s reality.
“The pace at which the transformation is occurring is accelerating fast, motivated by the rapid evolution of technology. A few years ago, discussions surrounding the idea of artificial intelligence were timid and perceived as distant, almost like science fiction. Today, we are pondering how it will disrupt the world as we know it and put us on the verge of a major upheaval,” concludes Stanley.
If there has been a profound change in the last twenty years, then we must wait and see what the next twenty years will bring us.
This year’s 10th anniversary edition of the World Business Forum Sydney takes place on the 11th and 12th of October at the ICC Sydney.