Turn of the millennium

The best party-trick a manager of the 21st century can do is display a diverse portfolio of skills. And help is at hand, says Roger Trapp
Whether it is the computer time-bomb or the general environment, business could fairly be said to have 2000 on the brain. As the spate of books with the words "21st century" or "future" in their titles demonstrates, there is no shortage of people encouraging executives to abandon their traditional short-term "fire-fighting" in favour of strategic thinking.

It was surely only a matter of time before the Institute of Management - effectively the trade body for business folk - got in on the act, but at least it is seeking to respond to a perceived need. Today, it launches a series of publications under the title "Millennium Manager", designed to "to meet the skills gaps identified by managers and equip them for success into the 21st century".

The series, produced in collaboration with Pitman Publishing, has been developed from Management Development to the Millennium, a two-year research programme by the institute which found that managers will need a portfolio of transferable skills for a range of situations. Among the skills that managers said they would need are in the areas of strategic planning and managing customers, information technology and information management, flexibility and team management.

As any graduate who has done even the slightest bit of research into the job market will know, the world of work is already very different from the one their parents knew, and likely to become more so. A central finding of the institute study was that the move towards contract and temporary employment is going to develop. Portfolio careers - in which professional people will become more like artisans of old through applying different skills to a variety of tasks - were confirmed as a likely way forward.

There was also further support for the notion that managers can no longer expect their employers to take care of their training needs. They must take responsibility for their own development throughout their working lives.

The institute stresses that it has deliberately picked the titles in the series to cater for the needs identified in the research. Moreover, the books are designed to fit in with this approach. Each guides the reader through a self-managed learning programme, with case studies, practical exercises and tests designed to assess individual progress.

Institute spokeswoman Karen Dale explained that the first group of four books - to be published over the summer - were particularly "aimed at meeting managers' needs for the next few years". Subsequent titles would be designed to help take managers beyond 2000 and into the new century.

Consequently, the book dealing with customer service - The Customer-Centred Strategy - Thinking Strategically About Your Customers - is intended to help managers deal with the fact that growing their business in an increasingly sophisticated global market will involve "being aware of what their customers are thinking before their customers know it".

Since developments in information technology are making this sort of knowledge possible to acquire at economic rates, it is logical that IT should be the subject of another of the first crop of books. The Information Edge - Successful Management Using IT deals with the fact that managing information through "adept use of IT" is increasingly acknowledged as vital to enhancing an organisation's competitive edge. Moreover, as work- forces become more flexible and widely dispersed - as the Institute of Management research suggests - IT will also play an important supporting role.

Two other titles will tackle the changing shape of organisations themselves. The Change Master sets out to answer "vital questions" on how important it is for the manager of the future to understand change and make it work in his or her organisation, while Creating Organisational Sensitivity - Managing Company Culture for Corporate Advantage deals, as its title suggests, with some of the "softer", though often tricky issues.

It aims to guide managers around the fluid and flatter structures that will arise in place of the old-fashioned behemoths of the past. "Strong teams will play a lead role in success," says the institute. "Specialism will not be enough, and managers will need to become generalists with a broad understanding of how the organisation and its various parts function."

While the 78,000 members of the body that claims to be Britain's largest broadly based management institute obviously need to take heed of such warnings, the lessons should not be lost on those entering the managerial work-force. Indeed, with growing signs that university leavers are turning away from the traditional "milk rounds" by large employers and becoming more interested in working for smaller enterprises, it could be that they are already aware that the big corporations are no longer necessarily where the action is