Dr. Richard Straub
Managing in the Next Society

Peter F Drucker’s book Managing in the Next Society was published in 2002 – three years before his death. The title makes one of the fundamental connections that Peter Drucker emphasised during his long life as teacher, writer and consultant: management is deeply rooted in society.

A crisis of management

Drucker called management a “social technology” and referred to himself as a “social ecologist”, meaning someone who watches and understands the man-made environment of modern societies. This environment is made up of institutions and organisations that need highly skilled people called “managers”, who achieve their objectives with others and through others.

Thus management becomes a generic function in modern societies – not only for business but also for government, education and civil society. As decision makers, managers wield significant power and influence. Their choices have direct impact on people’s lives. This means responsibility and accountability. The current crisis may be perceived as a crisis of management.

It marks the culminating point in a process of increasing disenchantment with business leaders, who are considered the ultimate culprits. In a 2008 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics among workers in 21 different professions a mere 12 % of respondents felt business executives had high/very high integrity – an all-time low. Even within companies the esteemfor management is at a low point. In a recent study about happiness economist Richard Layard showed that the boss came last among p eople that employees would want to interact with.

It is obvious that the excesses in global finance have further tainted the reputation of management as a profession. Yet those who rightly condemn the management of financial services institutions tend to forget that management is a vital profession, permeating all institutions of our society. There is no alternative to “management”

As Peter Drucker put it in his 1993 book The Ecological Vision: Reflections on the American Condition: “Management and managers are the central resource, the generic, distinctive, the constitutive organ of society…and the very survival of society is dependent on the performance, the competence, the earnestness and the values of their managers…What managers are doing is therefore a public concern”.

Can corporate management redeem itself from a public perception of greed and shortsightedness? Is there credibility to achieve what Lynda Gratton, a Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, has postulated – to put people at the heart of the corporate purpose? (Living Strategy, Prentice Hall 2000)

Or are there new role models emerging from the world-leading small and medium enterprises as described by Hermann Simon in his book Hidden Champions of the 21st Century?