What kind of managers can already pack?


In my previous posts summarizing 7th Global Peter Drucker Forum I pointed out that the majority of “big brains”, setting the tone of debate about management and the future of organizations, agrees that nowadays nothing is certain in companies’ lives, competitive advantage built through years can melt down in a couple of weeks, and the only way to avoid this, is to react instantly to differentiated and fragmented customer needs.

In such configuration, a great responsibility lies on the shoulders of managers. Are they prepare to act on it? I doubt it.

Especially so-called managers-administrators, or managers-coordinators, that perceive unpredictability and changeability as frustrating disruption in currently functioning procedures and methodologies (that they often studied hard during weekends and are were certified in), not as a chance and opportunity to “jump forward”.

I don’t believe that managers-mail readers are able to handle this change either, as their first activity every morning is rushing to their computers and answering to messages they find in their inboxes. Outlook slaves, chained to their desks, are often not aware of atmosphere in their teams, they also know very little about current contacts with customers and whether employees need any support from them. Sherry Turkle, MIT professor, warned against the disappearance of habit of engaging in voluntary conversations, even if by coffee machines – she pointed out that more and more people hide behind their monitors, smartphones, headphones, keyboards, as if they were pilots in their cockpits, and therefore they are more and more detached from reality. A number of consequences follows such behavior: lack of trust, lower motivation, lower identification with the company, lower loyalty…

It seems that such consequences are obvious, but there are still many people on managerial positions that can’t talk with others and therefore don’t like it. What happened partially because of the fact that, in the past decades, whether someone was professionally successful, was decided upon the degree of his resemblance to machine – what counted, was performing quickly routine tasks, eliminating emotions and forcing everything and everyone into algorithms, effects of which could be easily measured. But now we know that machines are getting better in this area and that they’ve already beaten people at being machines 🙂

We are facing 180-degree shift, instead of “machine competences” “human competences” will matter.

And business schools are partially responsible for the fact that managers are particularly weak in this matter,– their representatives admitted it during the conference and they’ve declared serious changes in their current curriculums. According to Gianpero Petriglieri, lecturer at INSEAD, MBA programs dehumanize leadership, they build comfortable security fence around managers (whether by techniques or by sense of being the bestest), but they don’t prepare them for unpredictability of contemporary environment. Everyone admitted that MBA students and graduates are simply not sensitive enough to operate successfully in such conditions – and instantly catch signals, react upon them, convince others to do that too.

It is not helpful either that they are still being taught of Weber’s concept of power – meaning gathering it and executing own will with it, even despite others’ resistance. The direction is still being set by quotes from Machiavelli, transformed by manipulation trainers into a pulp. Such approach to managerial education has fruits in a form of managers that communicate only in case of the ultimate necessity (and they do this, by speaking a lot, but telling nothing), and their main activity is locking themselves in their rooms and scheming (as described by an employee in one companies we surveyed), they try to motivate by manipulating emotions and telling fake stories, trust for them means control, and their only reaction to difficult situation are shouts and threats (and then revenge). They falsely assume that the world of winning power is simple and quantifiable, they can’t understand, what Hannah Arendt highlighted – that the power should be permanently discussed, or it will quickly lose its legitimacy. They would consider words of Roland Berger’s CEO as an act of heresy – that self-managing teams electing their leaders from their own circle will become common in the future. They simply can’t see a place for themselves in such world, therefore they are obstinately denying it.

The world of “command and control” collapses

But it does not mean that there won’t be jobs for managers. On the contrary – but they will be jobs of a different kind and for the managers of a different kind, too.

In spite of development of organizations into self-organization, self-management, self-administering, managers will still play a central role in them. Their future however, is not micro-managing, relying only on evidence from big data and looking for new ways of manipulating employees’ behaviors, but being curators of company’s culture. What boils down for instance to shaping common understanding and orientation. Especially, as it is exactly what employees expect – the feeling of sense.

“New” managers will have to accept that the company’s value comes only from the extent of effort it’s employees will want to pay – they can’t be forced to it, they have to do something extra voluntarily.

Hence, the task for such managers will be creating a stimulating work environment for employees, supporting them at maximum development of their potential, not forcing them into procedures. Greatest successes may be brought by managing through giving people chances to be fully human – only unpredictability of human nature can face unpredictability in company’s environment (that in fact comes from unpredictability of human nature). In practice, it all boils down into leaving people alone, without 24h control, and allowing them to make mistakes.

Charles Handy, a philosopher, recalls his career beginnings at Shell, when he was sent to Far East – with practically no knowledge, without even having telephone access to HQ. In his opinion, he has learnt the most about management right at that time – when he could make mistakes and fix them, without knowledge of “the top”, and when he could rely only on support of local employees, and in order to obtain this support, he could only talk to them. If, as it is now, computer and (e-mails) had been the basic tool of management and control, he would probably achieve nothing – no results, nor trusting team.

So – the world belongs to the brave (managers)! And they can unpack themselves.