Mindful of this decline, many of the great and the good from business and politics who gathered at this year's Davos World Economic Forum were looking ahead and seeking to define what qualities are needed to ensure business success in the 21st century.
Their list of attributes was brief, but pertinent. The new century's winners will be the businesses that cultivate reputation, brand and client relationships. These are the companies that "out-innovate the innovators" and that understand technology on its own will not win the war.
As we proceed through modern history from the industrial to the technological revolutions, I believe we have now entered a phase that I would like to call the "attitudinal revolution". This revolution is the result of technology serving us too well, and a growing realisation of the overruling impact human beings have on this process.
Given the speed at which information is produced and communicated now, today's manager makes more decisions in a day than he or she used to make in a week or a month just a generation ago.
The human element is key to our decision-making. Of course, the decisions we make depend on many factors. The most important qualities are intelligence, experience and the ability to rapidly appraise and analyse information. Also critical are the honesty and openness of the decision-maker, their willingness to take risks and their attitude to clients and colleagues (that is, stakeholders).
However, it's not just the individual that matters. The change of attitudes in our industry is showing a slow but distinct improvement. Our approach to clients today is very different from that of a decade ago. The motto "can do" has triumphed over "can't be done".
This change of attitude is particularly critical where environment, health and safety issues are concerned. Tightening rules and regulations and strengthening enforcement procedures are just the start of this important process.
Today’s manager makes more decisions in a day than he or she used to make in a month just a generation ago
Making a commitment
Legislation will only work if there is a genuine commitment on all sides and at all levels. This depends on fostering a positive attitude to change. Again, this goal is best achieved in close co-operation between client and contractor. Indeed, some clients are already ahead of the industry in this aspect.
Today, top companies such as BP, Cisco and Intel won't place contracts with companies until they are satisfied with their attitudes to environment, health and safety, as well as their systems and controls.
John Chambers, chairman and chief executive of Cisco, recently announced that his corporation prefers to do business with companies that have a compatible culture. Lasting ties between companies that work together for decades bear out the wisdom of the winning attributes of reputation, brand and client relationships.
The three work together. They have a common denominator in the values the company represents. In turn, those values are demonstrated through the attitude of employees.
Enlightened employers have long maintained that the mainstay of a company's character and strength rests with the calibre and quality of its employees. What new technology has done is to empower employees and multiply their impact on running the business.
Investing in people
Although annual accounts show us how much capital has been invested in assets and hardware, for example, they seldom reflect how much the company has invested in people and their attitudes.
Sir Frank Lampl is president of Bovis Lend Lease.