In the Future of Work, Great Managers are the Linchpins

In the Future of Work, Great Managers are the Linchpins

By Maureen Ennis on Nov 6, 2018 9:00:02 AM |

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In the not-so-distant past, managers had a heavy hand in directing work. They told employees exactly what to do, how to do it, and when.  Most of the time, managers supervised work as it happened and were in charge of small groups of employees who were all in one place and whose work was the same from day to day.

As we move into the future, the picture for managers is drastically different. Industry 4.0 is characterized by exponential change, artificial intelligence, a virtual world, and the need to continuously adopt new ways of working to remain competitive. It might make you wonder how relevant managers will be in the future of work. With self-directed, tech-enabled, globally connected teams, who needs managers?

The reality is that great managers are needed now more than ever before, but what it takes to be a great manager has shifted substantially. It's time to take a fresh look at the key shifts impacting management and the essential attributes managers now need, so that our organizations can grow and flourish in the digital era.

Today’s VUCA Workplace

Our work environments used to be fairly predictable, but now they are best described by the military term VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

The industrial era gave way to a fast-paced era of digital business. Where we used to have clear, simple chains of command, we now have matrixed teams with virtual workers who might be spread out all over the country or world. Our workforce spans more generations than ever before, with boomers and Gen Z now working side-by-side. Change used to be episodic, but now it’s continuous.

Constant uncertainty and ambiguity can leave employees feeling disconnected and unengaged. What they need is a person who connects them to the mission and vision of the organization and who can help them see the way, even when it seems complex. What they need is a great manager.

What Organizations Need from Managers Now

Successful organizations must develop managers who can build and sustain teams that thrive in VUCA environments. These managers must:

  • Guide their people through an increasingly complex landscape. Managers can’t just tell people what to do anymore; work moves too quickly these days, and clinging to yesterday’s approval processes will only create bottlenecks. Instead, managers need to empower employees to do what they think makes sense. They need to coach employees regularly to help them hone their own instincts, check in to make sure employees are aligned with the business and moving in the right direction, and give employees clear guardrails so they know when they go off track.
  • Connect people. Managers today need to be expert relationship navigators. They need to foster their own relationships with their employees and other groups throughout the organization, and they also need to help their teams navigate the org’s matrix to create connections across departments, levels, and time zones.  
  • Coordinate an untraditional workforce. No more are organizations bound by the 9-to-5 hours of traditional employment. As more employees move to flexible work schedules, remote work, and freelance work, bringing teams together becomes more challenging. A manager’s ability to lead and direct work is more visible now than ever, and managers need to be able to drive growth in a results-focused work environment.
  • Spark insights and creativity. As critical jobs evolve and automation eliminates or irreversibly changes old routines, the ability to disrupt work is essential. Managers must encourage a culture of invention, innovation, and adaptation to new situations, because it’s the teams with the most creative thinkers who will thrive when the next big shift happens. It’s up to managers to encourage a healthy level of risk and to cultivate a culture where it’s okay to fail.
  • Harness the power of collaboration. The highest-impact teams are those that are aligned under a shared purpose. These teams are almost always led by managers who know how to root out competition and foster trust. These managers make sure every person on the team knows each other’s superpowers. They help team members find common ground, appreciate one another, and approach each other with open minds. It’s the manager’s job to create the atmosphere of psychological safety that will allow people to truly collaborate.

At Thrive, we believe managers who embody these competences are linchpins: indispensable leaders vital to their organization’s success. To be successful in the future, organizations must invest in their managers and make their development a priority. Those that do will be the best prepared for the future of work — no matter what it looks like.

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Maureen Ennis

Written by Maureen Ennis

Maureen Ennis is a dynamic change leader with significant accomplishments in business transformation. She leverages a unique blend of competencies spanning strategic planning, human resources, technology and leadership. Maureen has over 25 years of corporate experience at Honeywell, Prudential and other Fortune 100 companies leading transformation herself and now serves as a trusted advisor to leaders driving real change.
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