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The JGM Blog

Feb 16

Written by: Stephen A. W. Drew
16/02/2013 17:02 

It is my great pleasure to introduce this Winter 2012/13 edition of the Journal of General Management. The articles presented here address a fascinating variety of topical issues. Each author shares a novel perspective on the challenges of organizational integration and competitive strategy in differing contexts, including small business, healthcare, financial services and fashion industries. The settings are global including China, Germany and the UK. The papers adopt an unusual variety of approaches to research design and methodology ranging from longitudinal case study to quantitative survey. All of the works are of relevance for managers, consultants and policy makers as well as academics.

The first paper by Dr Ping Zheng looks at the growth and development of entrepreneurial ventures in China using a longitudinal case study approach. Even in the most market-oriented of economies entrepreneurship is risky and success depends on many factors including luck. The author here explores how contingencies such as ownership, structure, management style, learning and strategy interact to shape the growth of differing types of emerging business venture under a system of market socialism. This study is oriented towards general management through addressing how leaders of growth firms can think about integrating different organizational resources and capabilities. The paper adds to our understanding of growth ventures in China and has substantial managerial implications for Western managers aiming to compete against such firms in China.

Our second paper by Drs. David and Tina Harness moves from a concern with growth to that of product portfolio restructuring at a later stage of the life-cycle. Much previous research on downsizing has highlighted human resource, structural and financial issues. More rarely is a strategic marketing viewpoint presented as here. The paper addresses the often neglected topic of product elimination in supporting post-downsizing success. Any one of us who has had to deal with the often confusing variety of financial service products on offer can relate to the need for greater simplicity. The conclusions of this paper will be of interest to financial service observers, practitioners and executives in many countries.

Following this we have piece of work by Ms. Shuyu Lin and Dr. Niall Piercy on the development of a competency framework for new product development (NPD) in the fashion industry. While there is extensive research on NPD in larger organizations there is much less from an integrated and general management perspective in smaller and creative sectors of the economy. The authors present an interesting holistic competence framework for a vital and innovative industry that often lacks in business and management skills.

Finally we have a paper by Dr. Krystin Zigan entitled “The Impact of Contextual Factors on the Strategic Management of Intangible Resources”. The focus here is on implementation of a systemic approach to leveraging intangible resources such as knowledge in the healthcare sector. This presents a piece of exploratory research in the form of a case study at a German hospital on how to improve management practices and strategies through greater awareness of the environmental context influencing organizational systems and processes. Since the healthcare sector is in a state of flux and reform in many nations this is a very timely contribution.

Common themes, more or less explicit in each of these papers, are the integrative, systemic and strategic approaches characteristic of the general management viewpoint. This leads me to reflection on what we mean by general management and the scope of this topic. Having experience as a practitioner, consultant, academic and teacher on international MBA and executive MBA programs I have noted the flux of fashions and trends in business education over the years.

General management has arguably now been superseded in MBA programs by the study of leadership. A search over Harvard Business Review also reveals only a couple of references to general managers in recent years. For example Professor John Kotter from Harvard Business School has moved from discussing “What Effective General Managers Really Do” (1999) to “Leading Change” (2007). Professor Lynda Gratton from London Business School provided one of the other few other references in “The End of the Middle Manager” (2011). According to this article:

  • "…technology itself has become the great general manager. It can monitor performance closely, provide instant feedback, even create reports and presentations. Moreover, skilled teams are increasingly self-managed. That leaves people with general management skills in a very vulnerable position." (p36).

  • With all respect to Professor Gratton, I wonder whether this comment is more fairly aimed at middle than general managers. Not to belabour a point, business education has fashions, for example “Business Policy” has become “Strategic Management.” It is perhaps timely to reexamine the challenges of general management and the intersections between leadership, change management and strategy. The reasons I propose this are the following.

    In my observation, much of the popular writings on leadership have been driven by an unfortunate, but natural, interest in business celebrities and quick-fix approaches. Rarely are contingency and other factors discussed. Academic writings have also tended to focus more on personal characteristics of leaders than what leaders actually do, why they do it, and whether it works. I propose that this is where general management steps in with study of integration and cross-functional skills to solve complex problems and implement new approaches. General management bridges functional expertise of different departments by connecting and recognising the presence of interdependency in today's increasingly globalised and multi-cultural environments.

    Many measures of leadership effectiveness fail to take into account the objective consequences of leadership action on the long-term health of their organizations. No wonder the average tenure of a CEO in North America has decreased. We have instances of leaders who have been serial failed general managers at major corporations and cost their organizations billions.

    Professors Datar, Garvin and Cullen (2010) in their influential book “Rethinking the MBA” studied the programs at leading AACSB accredited business schools and made many significant observations and recommendations on the current state of MBA education. In particular, they noted a need for greater teaching of integration of management skills across the curriculum and praised the traditional general management perspective of top schools such as Harvard and Insead.

    While not wishing to embark on a polemic, I would like to open this vein of thought to a discussion with readers of the Journal of General Management. What do we really mean by ‘general management’, and what should be the future focus of this journal?


    References


    Datar, S.M, Garvin, D.A. & P.G. Cullen (2010) Rethinking the MBA, Harvard Business Press.
    Gratton, L. (2011) ‘The End of the Middle Manager’, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 89, No. 1, p. 36.
    Kotter, J.P. (1999) ‘What Effective General Managers Really Do’, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 77, No 2, pp. 145-159.
    Kotter, J.P. (2007) ‘Leading Change’, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 85, No 1, pp. 96-103.

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