THE discovery of some snowy strands in my dark brown 'do this week brought me both pleasure and pain - the 'pain' of ageing of course stings, but the pleasure was based on the realisation that the older I grow, the more I’ll be taken seriously in Australian agribusiness.
Most Australian business, including agribusiness, uses age-old management styles. It’s a vertical, top heavy system that that needs ‘workers’ not ‘contributors’. The sector has limited time for innovation and is resistant to change. We live in a fast-paced, globalised world and this structure is failing us.
These old school management styles put a lot of power at the top of the hierarchy and from there it’s a top down management approach (autocratic).
Those at the top resist innovation, which gives them greater control while providing a safe environment to maintain self-preservation.
The system is too insecure to empower employees, while still maintaining control. That’s where sectors like IT and finance are leagues ahead. And surprise surprise, they’re the growth areas.
Rob Beck, chief executive of CR-X: Big Data Integration, started in IT in the late '70s, and has seen 35 years of unparalleled change. I asked him about the management structures that drive IT.
“The IT industry is driven by cultures, not structures - based on nurturing and rewarding innovation, not hierarchies. The companies that lead, are made mostly of young people, we all use their creations every day," he said.
"They don’t feel locked into any precedents and although there’s a consensus of needing a good grounding and training, 'years spent in the game' are not held in overly high regard as when infected with functions of predecessors, those candidates destroy innovation.”
Certainly a different industry, but that book is worth nicking a few leaves from.
Australian business could do with some flattening of it’s management structures, which could then allow the infusion of young or entrepreneurial talent to thrive.
The top heavy approach that champions managers over change leaders deters much of what it needs to keep alive in the competitive global marketplace.
I asked Stephan Knoll, the newly elected 31-year-old Member for Schubert in the South Australian Parliament for his thoughts on the issue.
“I am a great believer that we must learn from the past and the people in it, otherwise we’ll make the same mistakes but this must be balanced with a willingness to accept change, youthful ideas and different models of engagement," he said.
"For my part I have been welcomed to join and get involved but on terms not of my own, or my generations, but on current terms.
"Senior members around me are uneasy about this generation and feel that we are unwilling to contribute. My answer would be that things will not change until my generation is able to forge a path of our own, still we must be given opportunities to shape the future that we are going to inherit.”
Stephan hit the nail on the head: that we must forge a path of our own. The solution we find ourselves in now is from an equation that’s lacking, it’s made up of mis-matched values for the world we need to succeed in. We need leaders that shift that equation, but not with new “set” values like we’ve used in the past, but variable ones... as the world and business that sits in the distance is of a kind we’ve never seen before.
Identifying the problem is the first step - check in with me next week when I take a look at some of the ways leaders will be thinking and the kind of tools they’ll be using to drive industry change.