Who Moved My Manager?

Josh Bersin recently wrote a compelling post about how the nature of jobs are changing.  Instead of functions, people assume roles, perform tasks and participate in projects.  They may ‘report to’ a number of people besides their own manager, from project managers to stake holders.  They may lead teams and manage projects without a manager title.

This is all fascinating from an organizational development perspective and Josh did his usual great job describing how high performing companies develop expertise and reward business results. 

But for those of us in the software industry, the technology implications are equally fascinating.

If we were going to design a new kind of business application to help companies manage a global, virtual, fluid, contingent, self-managing, project-oriented workforce in a constantly changing business climate, where would we start?

First of all, let’s assume people work from anywhere, or at least anywhere with an Internet connection, so we’ll start with a Cloud-based application.  Collaboration and decision support tools also assume a looming importance in this environment, because the people who work together probably aren’t sitting right next to each other.

We also need our new application to be highly flexible in order to keep up with changing business needs.  It’s hard to be agile if your business systems slow you down.

In this borderless work environment the traditional ‘management’ role of the manager becomes less important.  People still need direction and leadership but classic top-down management gets in the way of collaboration.  Instead, people need visibility into the business information that shapes their decisions and autonomy to get the job done.

The traditional career development role of the manager also looks different in this environment as people plug into social networks, reach out to mentors, and broadcast their skills and experience in public forums such as LinkedIn.  Companies that want to retain top talent will provide tools that help people define their own career paths so they don’t feel they must go elsewhere for the next development opportunity. 

The formal annual manager performance evaluation is likely to evolve into less formal, more frequent peer reviews and feedback, supplemented by improved insight into work and business results.

Our new application should also help companies identify potential and develop talent in order to avoid critical skills gaps as the organization evolves and better align skills with critical work – across the entire organization, not just within the purview of individual managers.

It seems pretty clear that in this new world, the need for ‘managers’ will decline, even if organizations still cling to them out of habit for several decades.  At the same time, people will uncover new opportunities to become leaders in their respective areas of expertise, as Wally Bock noted in his recent post What if leadership wasn’t a promotion?

Which means that modern business applications should be designed to support leaders, not just managers.

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