Organizations, firms, companies, teams, regardless of what name we refer to these business entities by, are comprised of people. People are the driving force behind any business success, and that is why the key role of modern team leaders is to make sure that people feel deeply connected to the strategy and purpose of the business. Many managers today prefer to be called leaders for a reason – they do not want to have to manage, they want to lead competent, self-managing teams. But what happened to meticulous, role- and schedule-driven project management? Are people within organizations truly ready to work on multiple concurrent projects without managers in a traditional sense?
Several important trends of the 20th century contributed to redefining the role of managers and employees. The first trend is the rising level of education. The intuition is simple – the higher the average skill level of your employees, the less often they need direction on common tasks, the faster they learn and the less mistakes they make that require rework and additional training from the managers. The second trend is a shift to service-oriented economy where managers’ core competencies shift to complex decision making and strategy development from the traditional day-to-day oversight of all team projects and micromanagement. The third trend is the rise of technology, which affected all sectors of the economy, industrial, service, and information alike. With all new available technology, managers themselves have by far less manual work to do, and as a result have more time to ‘manage by walking around’, communicate and connect with employees, monitor market trends, network and exchange ideas. These activities have become the new normal for managers who wish to develop professionally, and the expectations have shifted from ‘simply’ being able to build a high-performing team to the requirement of being proactive in more and more areas of the overall business growth. With this shift, business managers are more than ever expected to be charismatic, inspirational, motivating, and relationship-focused vs. technically-savvy, experienced in one particular field, or perfectly organized when it comes to project management, planning, and execution. The higher the manager – or leader – level of experience as a manager, the less connected he is to the traditional management routines: scheduling, budgeting, resource planning.
So, if the managers want to lead, who will manage? The answer lies in the new attitude towards work and in new powerful technology. The new generation of employees is a completely different species from that of our parents who valued job security and guaranteed, gradual, even if slow, professional growth. The new generation values self-actualization, job satisfaction, creativity and personal growth more than anything, although they better be accompanied by a decent paycheck and respect from peers. This new attitude implies the new level of comfort with changing jobs every year or so, higher adaptability, and, in many cases, more assertiveness when it comes to decision making at work. The new generation has no problem taking on a piece of or even all of the managers’ job in the micromanagement, scheduling, project planning and other similar areas. The new generation wants flexibility and is capable of devising their own project plans based on a clear high-level team objective. On the technology side, the cloud gave us so many tools to manage our time, resources, plans, tasks, projects, deadlines, schedules, budgets, and all other activities that the challenge is not to get a tool, but to choose the best one. If you ask me, the best tools to manage work, including programs, tasks, projects, collaboration and communication processes, are those that are easy to use, can be adopted really quickly, and are integrated with everything else that a typical young worker would use to communicate or increase productivity at work. A few bonus points go to project management and productivity tools that are mobile-friendly and work well for personal use as well as at work. The best part about technology today is that you can get almost anything for free to get started.
In this new work environment where employees want to be independent, decision making is distributed across all levels within the organization, and technology is capable of replacing some of the most time consuming managerial activities, what will managers do? It seems that this is the perfect time for them to exactly what they want to do anyway – lead and inspire. These ‘functions’ require soft skills that may require years to develop even after you graduate from both university and business school. The ability to build strategic vision, foresee market needs that do not yet exist, analyze competitive landscape that changes faster than ever, effectively communicate with employees from all cultures and generations – these skills are no longer reserved for C-level executives, but are becoming the requirement to successful managers on all levels, within their area of focus. So, the trends are perfectly aligned in time – the roles and responsibilities of both managers and employees have evolved, but so have the tools and technology that can fully support the transformation of the modern workplaces with a help of the next generation, web-based project management software.