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Published 16 October 2012 12:00, Updated 17 October 2012 05:51
You know what they say about the elephant? That is an animal designed by a committee? Imagine what the perfect workplace would be like if it was concocted by people with different and competing agendas.
Strangely enough, when this was tried at a forum last year by 70 people, representing very diverse views, they were spookily in agreement.
What they concluded at the end of the two-day forum was that management as we know it had passed its use-by date.
The delegates at the Workplaces of the Future Forum II, last December, represented companies, the public service, unions, government, academia, employer organisations and consultants.
Convened by the Society for Knowledge Economics (headed by Telstra non-executive director Steve Vamos), the forum was designed to create a common vision for the future of our workplaces and to develop an action plan.
Now, following a seven-year campaign by the society, the federal government and industry will donate $12 million over four years to establish a Centre for Workplace Leadership, which will provide expertise and training to improve the quality of leadership and, therefore, also improve productivity.
In an announcement this week, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, says the dominance of industrial relations in the workplace debate had come at a cost.
“The workplace relations debate in Australia has for too long focused on conflict between unions and employers and the transactions involved in setting pay and conditions,” Shorten said in his announcement. “This has meant that ongoing, daily relationships that occur at the workplace have not been given the attention they deserve.”
Vamos says management and leadership today are based on a model that worked in the Industrial Age.
“The notion of worker versus manager is outdated and a workplace agenda dominated by industrial relations is not the answer.
“Great organisations create or embrace change in the world around them and seek to align internally with those changes. This requires thinking and doing things in different ways to what was has been modelled in our relatively slow changing and disconnected past.”
Vamos says Australia needs great teamwork, inspired and enabled by leaders at all levels.
“As a nation we get it and expect it from our sporting teams. At work, our standards are lower, too low, and unless we do get our act together in all contexts, we will never be as good as we can be, and the toughest challenges we face will continue to go unaddressed.”
Attendees at the forum last year agreed that organisations are too hierarchical, the quality of management needs to be improved and that co-operation needs to be enhanced between workers, unions and management, and that leaders have to reimagine their roles.
“Many of us have got to senior positions because we were in control, we didn’t make mistakes and we had the answers but this doesn’t work any more,” says Vamos, who formerly headed Microsoft in Australia and led an international sales and operations role for the company.
The business environment has changed radically and leaders now need to recognise they operate within a social system.
“This requires different thinking: helping others, trying new things and being willing to fail, listening and learning,” he says.
Vamos says the conclusion of the December forum was that, in terms of raising productivity and creating high performance companies, management was the “biggest lever we can pull”.
The Society for Knowledge Economics has worked closely with the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations on forums, consultations and research regarding high performing workplaces since 2009.
These activities involved well over 150 people from all stakeholder groups including business, industry associations, professional associations, unions, academia.