Right on target

The Advanced Institute for Management represents a fresh attempt to tie
together the loose ends surrounding management actions and the productivity
gap.

So, we have another initiative to boost UK competitiveness. Haven’t we heard
it all before and isn’t that the job of the DTI anyway? It’s easy to be
sceptical, having experienced what seems to be a scatter-gun approach to
national competitiveness that has spawned a plethora of well-meaning – but
perhaps not well-targeted – schemes and projects. What difference will another
make?

AIM – the Advanced Institute for Management – (February, news p4) promises
to lend some coherence to the subject. It has been set up under the auspices of
the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of the Office of Science
and Technology within the DTI.

There have been many different pressures for such a group. For example, it
will complement the work of the DTI/DfEE-established Centre for Excellence in
Management and Leadership (CEML), which aims to establish a forum with business
to help tackle the productivity gap.

ESRC deputy director of research Adrian Alsop, explains: "We’ve been
watching what CEML has been doing in relation to management and leadership, and
have been working along parallel lines. Our concern as a research council is
the quality of research, but there’s a tie-up. We’re aiming for the development
not just of research on management in general but of research on management
that will contribute to understanding the reasons for and policy options to
overcome the productivity gap, and address other key issues affecting national
competitiveness."

AIM director Anne Sigismund Huff sees the institute as a vehicle for
networking and bringing together people from the Government, business and
research to pool experiences. It will be a place where people from those three
communities develop new ideas about what should happen next.

"Everyone tends to stay close to what they’re doing. AIM will hopefully
be a place where people can stand back from that, see it in the context of
other efforts and go back to their work with a broader sense of what’s
happening and what the cumulative evidence is in the areathey’re working on –
both in the UK and around the world," says Huff. "My sense is that
there’s a variety of research that is relevant to companies and a variety of
experience in companies and other organisations that is relevant to research,
but too often there is a gap between them."

Research analogy

Huff is seeking inputs on the three or four areas that will be strategic
poles for AIM’s efforts in research and development, although she emphasises
that a portion of the funds will go to promising proposals outside of these
areas. This, she believes, will give the right balance, since, in a field as
broad as management, it is not easy to identify the areas that will have the
greatest impact.

She uses the pharmaceutical industry as an analogy. "I recently heard a
presentation about Merck Pharmaceuticals," she says. "Those who
determine investments in research find they cannot easily predict the specific
projects that will yield the most results. But, they can identify a few areas,
like cardiovascular, for which a strong need is clear. The company tries to
build capacity in those areas. I am convening a series of conversations to find
equivalent topics of importance to national competitiveness."

One such topic is likely to be creativity and innovation which is
increasingly important in the national competitiveness debate. The proof of
research investments will be that they affect subsequent work beyond funded
projects, says Huff. "We will focus on the development of new researchers,
but also report to the broader community in a way that should generate new
ideas for training and development in company and university courses."

The forward-thinking agenda of the project attracted Huff to become its director.
She is particularly interested in what happens when knowledge – once an
academic preserve – is produced more broadly across society. In the past,
universities were seen as the centres of knowledge production. Now, partly
because universities have trained so many good people, knowledge is being
produced in many other places. "AIM responds to a widely perceived need
for arenas that facilitate the transfer of information as it’s being generated.
We also need new ways to create knowledge on top of what’s being done so far.
The initiative will increase the academic research being done, but it has to be
relevant to and more informed by what’s happening elsewhere."

For Alsop, sustainability is key and he is keen for AIM to attract people
from research and business at all levels. "We’ll have not just the current
top people engaged in dialogue and process but also the next generation
developing and coming through who take interaction as a natural way of
working." Alsop acknowledges that there are many possible explanations for
the productivity gap. The quality of managers is one of them. "This
initiative is not going to be the answer – the issue is much more complicated
and multi-dimensional than that," he says. "But what we hope to get
out of it is a sustainable partnership and motivation towards ongoing
dialogue."

Huff stresses the sense of urgency to succeed in a globalising world where
new players are becoming more powerful and have advantages over more established
players in the UK, the US and elsewhere. "It’s important not to be
complacent and get left behind. We have to invent new ways to contribute in
this globalising world. This is not an academic exercise, it’s important to our
futures," she says.

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