Why are they afraid?

Photo by Gianmaria™

I read an interesting article about teleworking in the latest edition of the Knowledge@ASB. Here is a short part of that article:

With evidence mounting for teleworking benefits, the obvious question concerns why so many managers are refusing to offer the option. “It’s fear of the unknown,” says Bevis England, director of Telework New Zealand and facilitator of the Telework Australia initiative. “Some managers are simply reluctant to change. They think ‘if it ain’t broken don’t fix it’. But the system is effectively broken. In business, we have spent about 200 years learning how to cram people into concrete and glass mausoleums, justifying the rental expenses by claiming greater productivity. Now we are experiencing a new evolution in which we must unlearn those lessons.

Management style, for those who are not used to looking after teleworkers, must also shift from process-oriented to outcome-oriented management, Ward and England agree. Once the teleworker has the tools – the training, the information and the ability to do their job – the worker must then be trusted to get that job done and judged only by the outcomes of their efforts”.

What is it that managers fear so much? Why is it hard for them to let go?

I think in part, this is rooted in our own conceptions of management and leadership as top-down activities. The thinking goes something like this: “if I am the leader that means I need to tell everybody what to do. If they are not here, I can’t tell them how to do their work. If there are not visible, they might try to do things their own way. Because it is not my way, then it must be wrong”.

Sounds kind of dumb when it is put like that, right? Well, it is.

As the last sentence in the above quote implies, it is about trust, which is slowing becoming the glue that holds organizations (replacing fear and rules).

Lynda Gratton put it wonderfully while giving a eulogy to organizational loyalty:

But whilst loyalty is dead…long live trust. Loyalty is about the future – trust is about the present. Trust is core to the relationship between the employer and employee – without it relationships become simply transactions and work is mired and slowed through continuous checks and monitoring. CEO’s may not believe their executives to be loyal in the sense that they will be with them indefinitely – but they have to believe they are trustworthy. Trust is one of the most precious organisational assets – slow to build and quick to be destroyed. The precursor to trust is fairness, justice and dignity – demonstrated in how processes operate and how people are treated when the going gets tough

Until we come to the understanding that in many areas of business, top down just doesn’t work anymore and embrace the ideas of emergence, Equifinality and trust, we would probably keep fearing the unknown and making excuses. Are these activities you are comfortable with? I know I am not.



Will middle managers join the dinosaurs?

Photo by Frankie Roberto

Lynda Gratton from the Future of Work blog has written an interesting post claiming that middle management as a role is rapidly disappearing. She gives four reasons to back her claim (for the full explanation, read her wonderful post):

1. Technology has become the great general manager … When technology can play much of the role of the manager – why have one?

2. Skilled team members are increasingly self-managed… it could well be a rotating role. So when teams can manage themselves – what can a general manager add?

3. Attitudes toward management have also changed … Gen Y workers see no value in reporting to someone who simply keeps track of what they do, What they do value is mentoring and coaching from someone they respect. Someone, in other words, who is a master—not a general manager.

4. It was possible in the past to manage ‘intuitively’ and for good management skills to come as part of the whole ‘decent person’ angle. Now management is fiendishly difficult – particularly if people are located virtually across the globe. These situations take extreme specialist skills to lead.

All valid reasons. While I don’t have the empirical evidence to support my reasoning like Gratton does, I still find myself disagreeing. In fact, I think the reasons she mentions just make middle managers even more important.

Increasingly, work, especially radical creative work that creates true long-term value, will come out of cooperation between specialties from different fields. This means that people who come from different backgrounds, have different languages and different working habits and perceptions must come together and create something. Anyone who has ever been is such an environment knows that this is a difficult and stressful situation. More and more there will be a need for people to work together in a way that will create synergy and in ways that will bring about the comparative advantage both in skills and knowledge of every team member. While it is optimistic to think that team members can do that by themselves, it is usually not practical. Not because these people are bad or incompetent but just because their differences are such a big gap that it will usually be impossible for them to create that synergy without a person that help guide the atmosphere and who is responsible for creating the condition for collaborative value creation.

This however, does not mean that change isn’t coming. Just like in other areas the work of a manager will specialize. Management could not stay limited to technical reporting. And it cannot stay forced on leadership through content where the manager uses his superior knowledge and skill. Instead, management should be a specialization by itself, a role for people who are equipped to allow the professional process to be led by the team while they focus on leadership through process – maintaining the environment that supports collaboration on one hand and enabling the uniqueness of each team member to flourish on the other hand.

The change in technology, attitudes, rise of self management and specialization all lead to the conclusion that middle management has to take a different role and use different tools. Not that it is should disappear.

What do you think? I middle management a dying breed? Will they be extinct in a few years?


Management as a highly specialized profession

Photo by saschapohflepp

I was reading an interview with Moshe Lichtman, corporate vice president and head of Israel R&D for Microsoft on Themarker Magazine. Lichtman talked about many interesting issues, but one of them was of special interest to me (I translated the passage myself from Hebrew, so it might not be accurate):

We need more professionals and not only managers. It is a shame that people in Israel don’t respect professionals who are individual contributors. Everybody wants to be a manager and does not respect the professional although they contribution to the company is critical. The job of every high level manager is that is company would include as many productive professional as possible.

This strongly connected with something I read in Lynda Gratton’s blog:

What has been seen as ‘human work’ is increasingly moving to work that can be outsourced to a computer – giving feedback, managing information, creating reports  – can now be achieved through a combination of micro-chips rather than a human brain. So to be a ‘general’, jack-of-all-trades is not a great place to be. Your competitor is not the kids next door – it’s Wikipedia or an ever smarter computer. So increasingly valuable and interesting work will migrate to people with deep, specialist skills that have been honed through great education and coaching. That puts a huge emphasis on the education system of a state to both up- skill, and as importantly, to create a context where people want to learn and are prepared to put in the time and effort that the acquisition of deep skills creates.

I have written before on our bias toward management positions and the fact that companies are losing professionals and these individuals are losing themselves in promotions to managerial roles. Not everybody is fit to be a manager. But more importantly, managers are not the most important element in any company. Our perceptions and compensation plans should reflect that.

But there is an extra idea hidden in these two quotes. Management, like other professions is becoming more and more a professional field. Something that only people with the right aptitude, skills and experience can do. Facilitating a discussion, connecting between different disciplines, creating atmospheres of psychological safety and truly caring and connecting about people is not something everyone can do. The faster we start treating management as specialization in understanding human beings the closer will be to solve some of management’s moonshots.