A New Model for Management

I wrote in my previous blog (sorry for the long lag, but those pesky Holidays have me putting family over work) that a new management model was needed to make management relevant to a new economy, one characterized by most workers performing knowledge work. [Even knowledge work is under pressure as knowledge itself has become a commodity; knowledge work in service of value creation is our focus now.] So what does the management model of the future – or today – look like?

  • It’s systematic, an integrated way of enabling the full enterprise to generate sustainable results.
  • It provides transparency for all participants and stakeholders. In this context, transparency addresses both metrics and processes. Manufacturing has long provided visibility into work-in-progress, but knowledge work has often deferred until process completion to determine the outcome. The unit of knowledge work is a project (or similar structure by another name). Projects take on different characteristics depending upon the circumstances, but they all have a plan, which the best performing organizations use to drive the work. Our visibility into projects in progress is too often reduced to Microsoft Project (great for planning, OK for tracking, lousy for reporting) or status reports that say nothing or too much.
  • Managers have a new role description, one where they are expected to be great at managing and not only subject matter experts. Managers will carry no (or at most, very little) effort to complete the work… they will be eyes-on/hands-off. They are great coaches, observing performance, providing feedback, and demonstrably committed to the success of the team and all its members.
  • The fundamental responsibility of managers is to create the conditions of success for their organizations. Managers see to it that their people have the core skills (business knowledge, alignment with the core context, understanding of processes and systems) and domain skills (practicing the latest expertise for their field of work: accounting, marketing, engineering, service, production, etc.). Managers also provide tools to scale and sustain a growing business. These include capabilities as workflow, collaboration tools, and above all, the freedom that enables front line workers to act to serve customers and innovative continuously.
  • The last aspect of the management model is actually the first. In fact, it is so fundamental that I call it the zeroth, as it becomes before everything else and only then is everything else possible. It is communications. Communications are needed to include people in the process of generating and articulating the mission, vision, values, and goals so that people are enrolled in the beginning rather than struggle to buy-in after the fact. Communications are needed to set expectations and take accountability, so that everyone knows what the team is counting on them to deliver. Communications are essential to providing safety to experiment, fostering fast/cheap failures that accelerate learning. And communications are the prerequisite to fostering a customer-focused culture in which the enterprise’s value is acknowledged and rewarded by those who count most.

The manifestation of management practices will be different in all circumstances, but the underlying attributes will have these in common. What else do you think managing in the future will require?

And lest we forget, with change ever accelerating, the future is now.