French management – quel bordel!

24/11/2011 Comments Off on French management – quel bordel!

Poor New Zealand gets compared to every other place. We should be more like Ireland, with its tax breaks and thriving economy and, oops, nevermind. We should be more like Australia, with the high wages and, oh, traffic and deadly native fauna. Sometimes, France is held up as the place to be. Healthy attitudes toward alcohol, 35-hour work weeks, high-tech without the high stress.

It turns out that they have some of the same issues we do. Well, not exactly the same. The Economist reports that French management is notably weak and holding the country back:

In fact studies suggest that the problem with French employees is less that they are work-shy, than that they are poorly managed. According to a report on national competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, the French rank and file has a much stronger work ethic than American, British or Dutch employees. They find great satisfaction in their work, but register profound discontent with the way their firms are run.

Having read Bonjour Paresse, I’m not ready to believe in this rank-and-file ‘work satisfaction’. (Note: Corinne Maier, the author, is billed as an economist. Could she be a keynote speaker for the economists’ conference?) However, the idea that management is weak suggests that there are efficiency gains to be made.

The same has been said for New Zealand. A report to MED earlier this year found that our management is holding the country back (nor is this the first report with such findings).

The findings suggest that while some of New Zealand’s firms are as good as any in the world, there is a substantial ‘tail’ of firms that are mediocre, especially in their approach to people management.

However, French and New Zealand firms are weak in their own ways. The Economist’s article reports that French firms tend to be rigid and hierarchical. They don’t promote cooperation between management and employees and don’t empower their workers. The kaizen craze has passed them by; the notion that firms can harness employees’ initiative and creativity is literally foreign. New Zealand firms, on the other hand, seem to suffer from too little organisation:

for manufacturing firms in New Zealand a certain optimal degree of hierarchy is necessary for the organization and management of operations….

So what do we do? Well, the report to MED doesn’t give us the specifics. We need ‘more’ and ‘better’ management, but I’m not sure what that looks like. Maybe we could start an exchange programme with French multinationals, and both countries can learn from each other. Instead of ‘vive la difference’, it may be a case of ‘vive la moyenne!’


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