The Changing Role of Managers


In this article I want to first give an overview of how managers have been functioning in classical organizations, then look at how their environments have changed and the impact that this has had on them and their ability to respond to their environment.  Lastly I want to look at the new, developing role which requires managers to be responsive to this changing environment and to develop adaptive changes.

1.            Failure of Traditional Management

In many organizations, managers have been taught to carry out the classical functions of management – planning, organizing, leading and evaluation.  Yet any observer of human behavior would have to conclude that by and large this has not happened.  Many managers have not understood their roles nor carried out their management functions at all well – particularly planning and evaluating.  Probably leadership in many cases has been entirely lacking.

One of the major issues that I have with classical management theory and practice is that it is based on outmoded views of human behavior.  It assumes also that we live in a stable unchanging environment which can be predicted with accuracy so that the organization can appropriately respond.

This model of management also assumes that the most competent, the very best performers and the most creative thinkers become managers.  And we know that is not true!  Many people achieve management positions for a diverse range reasons including those of talent, politics, age, experience or just being there at the right time.

As training for many managers is limited or non-existent, it follows that managers will tend to manage as they themselves were managed.  Power and authority become important along with the trappings of office. The higher you rise, the greater the trappings!

So managers become people watchers rather than process facilitators.  Unfortunately, because creative people do not thrive in this kind of tension filled, static, low morale environment and may be a threat to the existing power base, they may feel quite unrecognized and unrewarded.  I predict that many corporations will die because they will not stimulate and promote their innovative people.  In future, people will get restless, look for organizations that accommodate their intellectual property and will leave those that thwart this desire for creative fulfillment.  This will be very detrimental to those companies which refuse to change as the competition for management talent will be fierce.

Many modern organizations are built on industrial assumptions that work can be broken down into demeaning bits with people in little boxes – someone thinks about the work, another plans it, someone does it and another person evaluates it.  Organizations and managers have failed to see the growing need that workers have to experience all four processes and to be released and empowered to be totally encouraged in what could be an exciting creative process.  Added to this is the incredible explosion in information technology.  Once a manager could retain power by controlling the communication channel in organizations.  To a great degree, this has been radically altered forever.

So in summary, there is a need for a changing role of management because people are the greatest resource that any organization has:  organizations are only people.  Indeed people themselves want their potential fully realized, their intellectual property valued and the pattern of work itself to be changed.

2.            The Changing Environment

Today, all organizations are facing an increasingly turbulent operating environment.  The trend in management literature is to human capital and service management.  This is a recognition of the need to change the focus in management to evaluate the service to the customer and the development of the individual and the team.  The environment is like the weather – if you dress appropriately you will do well.  Unfortunately many managers and organizations have been slow to adjust.  Once the environment was recurring, forecastable, predictable.  Now it is only partially predictable and at times totally surprising. Companies in the future will only survive as they are strategically positioned and are flexibly responsive to those external needs.  If on a five scale of turbulence we are at level four, then the traditional role of the manager as custodian and controller, relevant to earlier more stable periods in the market place, is no longer relevant.  Instead the new roles are those of entrepreneur and creator.  The old slogans of “don’t rock the boat” and “roll with the punches” have been replaced with “innovate and create”.  The  former success models of stability, low cost and response to need have been replaced by those of strategic positioning and flexibility. The former management systems of procedures, financial control and long-range planning have been replaced by strategic management and issue management.

The structures in future will be matrix and adaptive rather than based on power or hierarchy.

There will be a trend to reinvent the corporation into a confederation of entrepreneurial teams where people are given a chance to run with creative ideas and have the potential to produce significant innovations long term.

The secret of success in all organizations of the future and all managers of the future will be the art of mobilizing and pulling together the intellectual resources from all employees in the company.  Only by drawing on the combined brain power of all employees will a company be able to face up to and meet the turbulent constraints of today’s environment.

As the economy becomes more service centered, customer service will be seen as the key to competitive advantage.  This will necessitate greater responses to customer needs, innovation and ultimately every solution being customized to meet identified needs.

Changing values within the work force to be more self-centered, more distrustful, more prone to spend than save and more challenging to authority will have an impact on the manager’s role.  The new generation of emerging managers do not particularly want to be leaders or followers and aren’t especially interested in getting ahead in the strict traditional sense.

What will the new managers be like in the future?

3.            Characteristics of Innovative Managers

  1. Visionary – doer

First and foremost they will have clear vision of where they want to be and what they wish to achieve.  Great people have a vision and are committed to achieving it.  Leaders have a vision and recruit the right people to achieve it.  Managers of the future will spend considerable time getting their vision right and then freeing others to achieve it.

  1. Change agent

Managers of the future will need to have the ability to understand, direct and facilitate change.  They will need strategic thinking and an ability to rise above the detail.  They will need to not only manage finances and produce technology but also to set up the proper change processes with their human resources to foster flexibility with innovation.  Thus the new manager will need to be a listener, communicator, educator and inspirer who can create the right atmosphere rather than make all the decisions.  Above all, they will need to be secure to empower people to do the work at the front-line.  Loyalty to the vision and not the details of execution will be a must.

  1. Risk taker

The pyramid of power must be turned upside down so that the distribution of roles is radically different.  The pyramid must be flattened once and for all.  The customer and staff must be seen as the dual focus of the management.  The role of the manager will then be to critically evaluate all structures and traditions that hinder staff from servicing customers.  The manager’s role will be to help front-line staff provide customer service to maintain the competitive edge and to empower them in every way possible.

4.            Creative and Seize New Opportunities

The manager of the future will need to be highly creative to envision new market niches, jump or go around hurdles and above all persevere to achieve the end results.  Managers must be extremely skilled conceptually as well as being articulate and politically aware.  In a sense they will need to be single minded with a passion to see their ideas become concrete realities.

One way of ensuring long-term success is that you select, recruit and retain the right staff.