by James Watson
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Chairman and Companion of the IM

`Today's managers are having to learn many new skills. In the delayered organisation autonomous skilled departments no longer exist. Instead teams of managers find themselves responsible for every aspect of a product or process. They have to know about production, distribution, marketing, finance and customers'.

The New Year is always a good time to reflect on the previous 12 months and to draw up plans for the future. It is a time to take stock, to evaluate what has gone before and to see what needs to be achieved in the months ahead.

What has happened in the past year is an increasing acceptance by everyone that the world of work has changed for good. The old pyramid-style organisations with their myriad layers of management have gone for ever. Instead we have flatter organisations where power is devolved from the centre to individuals at every level.

Flexibility is the new buzz word and organisations all over the UK are having to adapt to new working practices and ideas.

Flexible working has become the rule rather than the exception. The days of a job for life with one company are over. Instead of 40 years with the same organisation and a carriage clock on retirement, today's worker can expect to change organisations and careers at a rate not contemplated even 10 years ago.

Downsizing and the restructuring of organisations are now commonplace. It started in large companies which were looking for cost reductions to make them more competitive but has now spread to small organisations in both the public and private sectors, as everyone has come to realise that it is only the lean that will survive, whatever their business.

Few employers predict a return to traditional patterns of employment. Instead they will continue to contract out work and to increase part-time working and job sharing.

Many managers are understandably worried by this prospect. A job used to offer security and predictability but this can no longer be guaranteed. To cope with these new circumstances managers will need to make sure that they are adaptable and employable. They will have to take responsibility for their own development.

Today's managers are having to learn many new skills. In the delayered organisation autonomous skilled departments no longer exist. Instead, teams of managers find themselves responsible for every aspect of a product or process. They have to know about production, distribution, marketing, finance and customers. They have the opportunity to work in new areas, with new techniques and they have to respond to a constantly changing marketplace.

For those in employment the next few years will probably not be easy, as many of those who have already been `delayered' will testify. However, it is not all doom and gloom. There will still be opportunity, but it will take a different form from what they are used to. They will have to sell their skills to organisations and actively seek work instead of expecting to be told what to do.

Work will increasingly be done in teams and the hierarchical management style of yesterday will be relegated to the history books.

We are entering an age of consensus management where people will be expected to draw on the abilities of others as they need them. There will be distance management when those being managed may not be in the same office, building, town or even country as the manager. At the Institute of Management we believe that teleworking will become the norm rather than the exception. Technology, with its fax machines, computer links and e-mail, means that individuals can be in touch with the corporate centre wherever they are in the world.

In future, even where teams of people are working in different offices, buildings, cities or countries, managers will be able to gain access to the particular skills of individuals as and when they are needed. This is globalisation in a managerial sense.

This will require a different way of managing. The autocrat or dictator who is used to telling his staff what to do without consultation, belongs to the past. In his place is a team leader who will need to be prepared to loosen the controls and empower individuals to make decisions on their own.

We believe individuals should be - and will be - judged on results, not on time served. Does it really matter where an individual writes a report or a computer program? Research has shown repeatedly that productivity rises by as much as 40% when people are allowed to work from home. Instead of battling to the office through traffic jams and train strikes they come to their desks fresh and ready for the rigours of the day ahead.

There are also obvious cost benefits with the need for a large unwieldy corporate head office greatly reduced. This must surely be a better way of working for many people. So far, however, management has tended to shy away from the opportunities this could offer.

Very few organisations have a formal teleworking policy although most have an informal arrangement with some of their employees. It is time these policies were brought into the open and teleworking made available to all those who could benefit.

The Institute of Management has recently published the most comprehensive report since the landmark Constable and Handy reports in 1987 on the state of the UK's management development needs. Entitled Management Development to the Millennium, the report looks at what we have achieved to date and what needs to be done if the UK is to be in a position to compete into - and beyond - the millennium.

It shows that managers in the next century will need skills in the following areas: strategic planning, responding to and managing change, Total Quality Management, verbal communication, coaching others and delegating responsibility.

The skills that are required will include team management, the courage to let go and to trust people. For many managers this will involve a complete change of style.

Let people take more control over their lives - both at home and in the working environment. Trust them. Evidence shows that employees who are trusted to act responsibly, do so: companies that don't empower people will find they have employment problems in the future.

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