Yesterday, today, tomorrow
By Jeanne-Marie Hallion
The current health crisis will undoubtedly have important consequences on the methods of execution of managerial tasks and, as a consequence, on the organization of companies.
Let us first recall the three pillars on which the role of the manager is based:
- Building meaning
- Manage the activity
- Develop employee skills
To achieve this, the manager must:
- Know how to show consideration to your employees
- Keep your team focused on priority results
- Communicate clear and precise objectives
To accomplish his mission, the manager must first and foremost know how to establish rules of communication between and with his teams. He must also have the means to implement this communication.
The company of yesterday was based on a pyramid system, with an established structure. Employees were physically present in the company, sharing and exchanging ideas. Many face-to-face meetings were held. Poorly organized, these meetings could sometimes be a waste of time and cause a lack of listening between participants. But in this system, managers could control the work of the teams at any time.
More performance, a faster pace, these were the watchwords for more profitability.
What is happening today?
We are deprived of a certain freedom of movement, because our health depends on it. But finally, according to some surveys, 70% of employees are satisfied with teleworking. It suits them because it allows them to save and make use of the time spent in transportation, to be more autonomous, efficient and productive. There is no more time wasted in unnecessary chatter. Because they are isolated, this results in greater freedom and responsibility on the part of employees.
While this situation seems to suit many employees, managers are concerned about losing control of their teams. Questioning their management methods is sometimes difficult and painful.
Telecommuting and its benefits
It provides greater autonomy to employees. Since employees are isolated from each other, it eliminates communication problems linked to cultural differences. It promotes concentration and saves time. Schedules become more flexible and allow employees to better balance their private and professional lives. Well-prepared videoconference meetings are shorter and more efficient. The hierarchy becomes less visible, the staff is more engaged and less stressed. It generates savings on company operating costs and facilitates the participation of people with disabilities. Finally, as demonstrated by recent observations, it contributes to the fight against global warming.
Telecommuting and its drawbacks
By reducing the opportunities for exchange between employees (no more coffee machines, for example), telework induces a risk of isolation for some employees and requires a greater effort to communicate with the teams. The employee, as well as the manager, must examine and prioritize the list of tasks. Telework requires rigor, self-discipline, and is opposed to the principle of authority. For the manager, the fear of not being able to control his or her employees becomes a concern. It should also be noted that teleworking is not suitable for all categories of staff.
What about tomorrow?
The role of the manager will not change. The fundamentals will remain unchanged. What will be different is the context and the tools that will be made available to him to fulfill his mission.
It is possible that a significant part of the employees remain in partial telework. The challenge for the manager in these circumstances will be to maintain and sustain team cohesion.
The comfort of teleworking, for some, will have to be compensated, for those who will return to the company premises, by a better quality of life at work. Autonomy (especially experienced during the confinement period) is an essential component of quality of life at work. Autonomy and responsibility are inseparable. A majority of employees (66%) believe that effective management is in place when they feel confident, autonomous and responsible. Employees expect their managers to be more of a companion and coach than a directive leader. The latter should therefore free the power of initiative and creativity of each individual.
The distance imposed by telecommuting will make the manager realize that his role as coach is essential. He/she will have to show great adaptability and agility. The manager will have to demonstrate that he is a support and show recognition. He will have to dialogue, delegate, even more than he did before.
To maintain cohesion, he/she will have to create a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect. A mutual benevolence where everyone will feel included. More than ever, local managers must maintain daily contact with each employee. Informal exchanges with those who are at a distance should be possible (reinvent the coffee machine). The manager will change his look, the idea not necessarily being to make a decision but, more than ever, to find how to get the best out of the team by triggering collegial decisions. As a result, working methods will become more and more collaborative.
In the companies of tomorrow, everyone will have to take responsibility, and the trend may be towards self-governance. Hierarchical pyramid models will certainly disappear. Younger generations want and will want increasingly flexible and horizontal organizations. The manager may no longer have to manage employees, but will have to collaborate with autonomous people, or even self-employed people, and the company will use external coaches. These coaches will not have authority over the teams, they will be there to help, accompany and ensure that the team does not reach an impasse. Authority will no longer be able to impose itself as it used to, the manager will have to take a step back and his management method will be resolutely collaborative.
In his article "Self-governance: a model for society?", Hubert Guillaud refers to Frédéric Laloux's book "Reinventing Organizations": "The challenge here is not to solve the problem of power in companies, but to transcend it," explains Laloux. It is not a matter of reducing hierarchies, of making each employee the equal of another, but on the contrary of relying on competencies to make authority dynamic. The challenge - as is often the case in business - is to foster relationships through the competencies one brings to others rather than to establish positions. For Frédéric Laloux, the challenge of liberating, self-governing companies is not to make them flat or egalitarian, to make hierarchies disappear, but on the contrary to make them dynamic, to entrust authority to the person who has the most knowledge and experience in a specific context.
Whatever the case, and given the tools we currently have, the question we can ask ourselves to foreshadow the future is whether face-to-face management is an indispensable model for performance.