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The 'six Ps' of management.

Travellers and even non-travellers among our readers must have read or heard about the fiasco that followed the opening of the new Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow airport. Even as I write this, I gather that thousands of bags, minus their owners, are revolving on carousels somewhere in Europe! If this had happened to a shiny new airport which cost billions of pounds to construct in Africa, you can imagine the sneering, even gloating headlines in newspapers and snide implications that 'African and good management' is a contradiction in terms.

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To be fair, the British press had a field day--or week-- having a good laugh at the expense of the hapless management. One thoroughly disgruntled traveler wrote a witty song on his travails at the airport and videoed it. It has become a hit on YouTube.

But there was also a very serious examination of the British management culture in the press and on blogs. The overall verdict was that British management structures were anachronistic, inefficient and almost programmed to fail to deliver.

The main reason for this culture, according to some of the world's most successful managers, lay partly in the country's class structure which prevented the most skilled and talented from reaching the top of the decision-making tree; it was also due to a mindset in which shareholder profits superseded customer satisfaction.

It is difficult to disagree. Take public transport in say London and compare it to any of the other major European cities--Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Paris etc. London's buses and underground trains are very basic, often uncomfortable, usually late and extremely expensive. The public transport systems in all the other cities mentioned are cheap, reliable and very comfortable--trains have clean, modern toilets, drinks machines, electronic connections, friendly staff and are about one tenth the price of a ticket for a similar journey in London.

The difference in approach is striking. In the UK, customers are often treated as necessary evils; in the rest of Europe, the customer is king and treated as such.

Loss of planning skills

These attitudes, which quickly turn into habits, produce vastly different management outlooks. Compare the squalid, overcrowded, stress-filled atmosphere at UK airports with the uplifting environments you find at Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Seoul, Singapore and other award winning airports of the world. The difference is the care and attention that is given to the needs of the customer, not the needs of the organisations that run these facilities. Some British management gurus admitted that planning skills, for which the UK was once very proud, appear to have withered away--perhaps from disuse. "We appear to have lost the ability to plan ahead, to anticipate problems and to find solutions before the problems arise," said the head of a large UK corporation. "We seem to plan as we go along--the old 'bumbling along' excuse that is trotted out to cover all disasters."

Sometimes this inability to plan ahead is simply astonishing. King's Cross underground and train station spent millions if not billions refurbishing the station--a major hub for travellers often carrying heavy suitcases. But they forgot to install escalators at key points! Everyday you find scores of people trying to stagger up stairs with their luggage or prams. This is the only major transport hub in Western Europe in which you have to lug heavy baggage up and down stairs.

But, while established old nations like the UK may be losing their ability to plan ahead, a new breed of imaginative managers growing up in the Southern hemisphere is displaying astonishing skills in detailed pre-planning.

Some of these attended US management schools via, and this is important, arts degrees. An increasing number of corporate heads are looking for imagination in their management recruiting. Companies like Google, Yahoo and even Microsoft say their success has come out of the creative, imaginative minds of their employees. Imagination applied to knowledge is genius.

In business, this takes the form of putting the interest of the end user paramount and then arranging other productive factors around that. It was this attitude that changed Japan from a producer of cheap, shoddy goods to the world's most reliable manufacturer. When US and British car makers were deliberately building obsolescence in their cars in order to boost the sales of spares, Japan went the opposite way and produced the 'most reliable car in the world'--the Toyota Corolla. I remember reading comments from a US chief executive predicting that Toyota would go bust quickly because "they don't understand that the money is in the spares." Since then a lot of car makers have gone bust and Toyota has become the biggest selling car in the history of automobiles.

Today, Indian management is following in the same footsteps, having ditched their traditional hidebound bureaucratic approach. But the most exciting prospect is in Africa. Africa's top managers are producing results that are the envy of the world. Their secret? "The six Ps", a Ghanaian executive told me. "Pre Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Author:Versi, Anver
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:May 1, 2008
Words:830
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