UK: IM SOUNDING BOARD - THE VIEW FROM THE 21ST CENTURY. - Dear 20th century manager,

by Antony Brown.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Dear 20th century manager,

Let me tell you straight away, the principles of good management are valued more than ever in the future. Your positive attitude and quest for a challenge are still required. However, there are some things you should know if you are to be a successful manager in the next century.

Firstly, if you believe that you will be staying with the same company for most of your career, think again. It is now common for managers to have about seven or eight major assignments during their careers. You will be very lucky to find a contract that offers more than a fixed five-year period. Even these contracts have large elements of performance-related pay. To qualify for some of the quite lucrative bonuses, managers are expected to meet specific, agreed targets of contribution which directly relate to the success of the organisation.

The terms 'job security' and 'permanent employment' are anachronistic, very 20th century. Today, you will only hear phrases like 'job turnover rate' and 'in-contract'. If you are a first-plus contributor you can normally expect to be headhunted for your next assignment when you are out-of-contract. If you are a third-negative, you should get on the video-mail system and search for yourself.

One point I cannot stress enough is that the nature of work and organisations will change in the years to come. The info-economy will arrive sooner than you think. The advent of the information super-highway will mean that text, graphics, voice and full-motion video can be sent anywhere in the blink of the eye. Most of your meetings will be conducted over a video-conferencing system, so you will work from your home-office until you need to go on-site or visit the assembly plant. Neural computing will spawn a new generation of super-computers which imitate the mechanisms of the human brain. I guess you still talk of data-bases - old hat, old boy. We now have knowledge-bases that can actually learn. They have an IQ of almost 100 and are improving all the time. Information is the only stable structure of the organisation: managers themselves are transient, moving from assignment to assignment, while the computers become ever more knowledgeable. They keep details of strategic chronology, corporate history, processes and customer information. They support creativity everywhere in the organisation.

Are you using multi-media systems yet? You surely can't still be using a PC. Well, I don't want to alarm you but now we all carry these little machines called PALs. They are personal artificially-intelligent linguistic systems, small enough to carry in your pocket but powerful enough to speak. They link into a vast data network to present the latest information you need, analyse situational problems and communicate with other PALs to arrange meetings and so on. And, would you believe it, the latest models even take accurate meeting minutes. But they are not as friendly as secretaries or personal assistants, I'm afraid. So be prepared; information technology will revolutionise society and completely change the way you work.

You will find that one of your priorities as a manager in the 21st century will be relationship management. The focus on the formation and management of mutually beneficial alliances and business partnerships is very sharp. It has to be - relationships are a very great source of competitive advantage.

The reasons date back to your era when globalisation started to have a profound effect on companies. Mighty national corporations became vulnerable in a much larger system and pooled resources with other companies, usually for joint R&D, co-operation in distribution or sharing knowledge bases. They became increasingly reliant on their business partners for success. As an alliance manager you will have to ensure that relationships are equitable and work smoothly so that a strategic advantage can be gained by all the parties involved. So remember, corporate symbiosis will soon be the buzz word in the boardroom.

Another trend that is quite different today is the pervasive concept of clusters. A cluster is a small team of employees who work together to solve a business problem or define a process and who then disband when the job is done. Management in the future means being a team leader, guiding a cluster and helping people to achieve the goals on which you and they will depend for payment.

Talking of pay, your salary will follow the 'family life cycle'. In general terms, your remuneration will peak in your late thirties when you need to provide for the growing needs of your family. After that the rate will reduce, as your needs will undoubtedly change, until it reaches your pensionable level on retirement.

Finally, as a team leader, you must also demonstrate to an employer that you can utilise your talents between assignments, in the greater spare time available to you. Your skills, energy and enthusiasm are obviously needed in your job but they are also required outside working hours. Your success depends on the success of the community as a whole. If there is one thing you need to remember, it is that you should ensure everybody can gain from your leadership, vision and understanding. Only then will you be able to use your considerable talents to put right some of the mistakes that have been made.

My PAL has just informed me that I will be late for a meeting. I must catch the next shuttle to another space station. Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you; I am the team leader of the project to reconstruct the terrestrial environment. You see, it can be difficult to live with the effects of mismanagement: the Earth, so remote and distant, now only looks beautiful from the infinite coldness of space.

I hope my time-travelling e-mail will reach you. Managers of tomorrow, good luck.

Yours, from the future, A Brown

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