Karen Clarke, the winner of the IM's annual essay competition, outlines three roles which the manager of the future will have to master.
The manager as we know him or her - decision-maker, expert, boss, director - is extinct. This is what many businesses are waking up to and what many managers are having to face. The 'new' manager has three roles - leader, coach and facilitator.
Managerial success will now be determined by ability to develop and position the business strategically, and by staff performance. This means that managers have to accept that they are no longer the focus of attention but part of a team. Rewards for the manager are based on improved business results achieved mainly through the team.
Companies have always prided themselves on being people-oriented, claiming that 'people are our greatest asset'. Today, in a stark business climate, companies are realising (many of them too late) the truth in that statement. People are fundamental to the success of a business - the business will flourish or die in their hands.
So, what has changed? Why should people be any more significant today than in the past? The simple answer is that customers have changed. They are more demanding. Customer service is now the only thing that distinguishes one business from another in the same field. A customer's perception of a company is usually formed by contact with the people representing the business. It is therefore imperative that the service and image that the representative gives the customer is first class.
This has many implications and it is what has forced the change in the role of the manager. If the business is truly to give world class service, then it is critical that the right person has the power to make decisions. The luxury of checking with a manager before making a commitment to a customer has gone. Employees have to have the trust of their managers to make decisions; they have to know that these decisions will be supported and be confident that they will not be punished for taking a risk.If employees are truly responsible, then what does the manager do?
To answer this, we return to the first role - the leader. The effective manager should not be focusing on the day-to-day operational needs of the business - but on the longer term. With training, employees can run the business on a day-to-day basis. They may not be used to doing this but they should be capable of it - otherwise, why were they hired? The manager should focus on the wider picture, meeting customers and setting the future direction of the business.
It is pointless deciding the business direction and then expecting employees to follow faithfully. The manager needs to involve employees in implementation - after all they will be responsible for reaching the goal, so they have to be committed to it. The manager's role then becomes one of ensuring that the group moves toward the goal while at the same time giving individuals enough space for creativity. This is done by establishing the environment and parameters within which people can operate - especially in the area of decision-making. Finally, the manager must lead the process of implementation by taking an interest and by rewarding progress toward the goal.
Simple? Unfortunately, employees everywhere would be stunned if they were suddenly told they were on their own. Either, nothing would happen, or there would be confusion and anarchy. The second role for the manager is therefore that of the coach.
This is a difficult role to perform well, because it involves people. Getting on with people does not automatically mean you will be a good coach. Effective coaching takes practice and has two results.
First, it creates an environment where change can thrive by arranging for people to have the resources and education to carry out the tasks for which they are responsible, building trust by showing trust, and ensuring that people understand the boundaries of their responsibilities. Second, it brings abilities to the surface through building up confidence and building on capabilities - just telling someone what their strengths are is meaningless. They have to come to recognise what they are capable of. A manager can build on capabilities by reinforcing them through education or training, rewarding the positive behaviour, reducing the negative behaviour, and gradually allowing more and more freedom for the individual.
The third role for the manager is that of facilitator. To move the business forward and encourage the growth of new ideas requires both hard and soft skills. Hard skills are needed for a structured approach towards continuous improvement of the way the company does business. The soft skills are in facilitation. This allows the manager to act as a catalyst, drawing out employees' ideas and helping them to put some structure round these ideas. This does not mean the manager tells them what to do and how to do it; it means using techniques to keep the group and their ideas moving forward - bringing out the best.
This job will attract a different type to that of the manager of yesterday. It is not a job which delivers instant success. It takes time, experience and a lot of mistakes to become successful - and you cannot achieve success by moving through jobs quickly.
The manager of the future needs to be a natural salesperson who can establish good customer relations and develop trusting relationships with people. Further, he needs to have the commitment, the energy and enthusiasm and, most of all, the desire to see others succeed.