I’ve always believed managers are coaches. ‘Manage things - lead people’ is how my good friend and leadership expert Brian Ward of Affinity Consulting, Edmonton, Canada describes it. In the next few years I believe we will see far less directing and ‘managing’ of people as they become more and more empowered due to the ease of access to information. Nowadays the subordinate person who was previously ‘managed’ by their boss is in possession of as much information as the boss - thanks to the internet. The implications for managers are simple and obvious. If the manager is to retain that ‘higher place’ in the pecking order he/she will need to illustrate what is the added value he/she brings. And ‘many years in the job’ is not the right answer.
I advocate embracing the new challenge and see your role as a coach of talent. The manager with experience and qualifications should be in a position to impart that knowledge and encourage the people in the team. I see less hierarchy and more teamwork where the coach has the job of keeping all the team members happy, fulfilled, motivated, stretched and enthusiastic. This will require development of new and existing skills. The alternative is to watch frontline employees take your space in the organisational chart. The manager is dead – long live the coach.
2. Trust the frontline workers to manage themselves
I’ve always believed frontline employees have much more to offer than their job descriptions, and sadly, their managers allow. Peter Drucker said “90% of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.” In the new world of management I see frontline employees being in control of their own workload and calling upon the coach for advice when they need it. Customer expectations are increasing because the customer is more informed. Frontline workers must be at least one step ahead of the customer in order to meet that expectation. The customer of the future will be more demanding. To be left waiting for an answer while the frontliner goes through various layers of management to solve simple problems will not be acceptable.
We have to find ways of ‘letting go’ of the perceived power managers currently have. The best way to gain power is to let go of power. Frontline employees are more than capable of creating their own working practices and project teams with the ‘support’ of the coach rather than the ‘direction’ of a manager. The battle to obtain the legal right for people with a learning disability to vote in the United States was captured in a report called ‘Make us Citizens and Watch us Grow’. That title could be applied to most frontline workers. Trust the frontline workers – they know the answers.
3. Working in your pyjamas at home is OK!
As managers and frontline workers become freed up to decide on their own priorities there are enormous implications for the workplace and the hours of work. Working from home was controversial when it was first introduced in my workplace 20 years ago. Many of my peers believed it was a ‘brave step to trust people to work from home'. I predict even less traditional office-based working in the future – apart, that is, from those workers who have face-to-face customer contact. I also see far less control by managers of the hours worked by employees. We have to find better ways of measuring outcomes.
Relaxation of dress code is another spin-off. If people are working from home and there is no customer-facing role it matters not whether the person is working in their pyjamas all day. It doesn’t matter either if the person hasn’t shaved for a week. Outcomes matter - appearance does not. This stuff is not 'risky'. If we start from a position of trust in our employees we will be repaid with loyalty way above and beyond the repayment we get when we start from an implicit mistrust. I don’t even begin to understand why anyone might question the fact we all like to be trusted. A professional working in their pyjamas is ok!
4. Working in a global village
In the last five years I have made more new friends that I may never meet, than friends I have met. Email, blogging and electronic communication create a host of new communication methods. We no longer have to restrict our thinking to communicating with people in our office, our team, our organisation, our town, our country or our continent. The world has become a village. Everyone who wants to be is accessible. As with all villages, there are people we do not need or wish to communicate with.
So we just need to be discerning in our use of modern information technology and as always we need to choose our friends carefully. The onus is on current managers to seek new alliances, new ‘friends’ and new colleagues from any part of the globe and more importantly to keep an open mind about how and what we may learn and from whom. The new communication methods offer us open access to great minds and amazing learning. We need to grab the opportunity. We do not need to be restricted to traditional methods of communication and learning; your ‘next door neighbour’ may be thousands of miles away in a different time zone.