Monday, August 10, 2015

Coming soon...Corporate World Without Managers

Having experienced the management role for quite some time, I believe it was important to write about the trends that are impacting the profession. The purpose of this blog, however, is not to justify which situation i.e. with manager or without manager is right or wrong. More than passing judgment, I would rather try and paint a picture as it appears in my mind and give ample space to your comments to chart the future course.
I got to write the upcoming text as a proposal for the presentation in the upcoming Grace Hopper’s conference. I would be happy if it does get selected for presentation as I do have a relevant perspective to share but if it doesn’t for some reason, honoring my passion around the subject, I would continue to expand on this by the medium of this and other blogs. Please read on and do share your comments-                      

For those of us who have worked in organizations for years would appreciate that when we think of work, we are often loaded with some peculiar assumptions-as these examples state-
·       Work is a place where employees need to often commute every day to conduct business.
·       There will be a dedicated, fixed seat where we conduct various aspects of our duties.
·       An employee will be a part of well-defined hierarchy in the organization.
·       An employee will report her work to a role called as Manager.
·       My manager will not only oversee the work but also be responsible for employee’s well-being in the organization while taking care of responsibilities like work evaluation, salary hike, promotions etc.

·       …and many more

These aspects and many more like these have been so ingrained in our minds that we rarely question their relevance in today's world.
However, we do have some outliers who are challenging these oft-believed notions. As an example- Citrix Inc. armed with its state-of-the-art technologies and a compelling vision is challenging the notion that "Work is a place". On the contrary, its solutions help promote the premise that "Work isn't a place. It's a thing you do." And you do work where you find inspiration and office is just one of many places where you may find inspiration.

In the sphere of management, there is an interesting idea taking shape these days. I think it will be too early to call it a trend yet but it still holds a great deal of promise to catch the attention of the bigwigs from our industry. This idea even has a name and it is called as Holacracy. As Wikipedia defines it
Holacracy is a social technology or system of organizational governance in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy.
Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retail subsidiary of, was in the news recently for fully embracing Holacracy and formally doing away with the manager role in the hierarchy with a strong emphasis on the principles of self-management.

Does it mean that we are staring at a future where managers won't be needed at all?

Before I further comment on this, I wanted to share some of the key events that I have seen happen in the last about 5 years or so- which have had a direct or indirect impact on the way management is done and is perceived by practitioners.

Employees First Customers Second Management Philosophy:
First event I mention here is the evolution of Employees First Customers Second (EFCS) management philosophy. This was popularized by HCL CEO Vineet Nayar during the early part of the current decade. His work and the transformation that he brought in HCL is well recorded in his first book- Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down . At the core of his philosophy, Vineet further narrates-
We create value in one very specific place: the interface between our HCL employees and our customers. We call this the “value zone.” Every employee who works in the value zone is capable of creating more or less value. The whole intent of Employees First is to do everything we can to enable those employees to create the most possible value.
The greatest value in a knowledge based organization is brought about by the employees who work on the stuff that directly impacts the customers. It is vital for the organizations to have clarity on where the core value zone lies.  In EFCS approach, the traditional hierarchy that is followed in the organizations where an employee is accountable to her manager isn’t considered as effective in today’s knowledge based organizations. In other words, management is as accountable to the people in the value zone as the people in the value zone are to management.

Second event that is worth noting is the organizational shift towards delayering and the organizations adopting Hourglass structures. Delayering, simply put is, the action or process of reducing the number of levels in the hierarchy of employees in an organization. Hourglass organizational structures, well, look like hourglass rather than traditional pyramid type structures. What it means is that the structure will be heavy at top, heavy at bottom and very lean at the middle. Organizations like Wipro, which traditionally has had hundreds of thousands of employees are mulling to embrace hourglass like structure, which would eventually mean that the traditional managerial type function- which mostly "ensured" that work gets done rather than "doing" work will likely be delayered.

Renewed Performance Management:
The third event, which is again gaining momentum in the first half of current decade is the revamp of performance management. Most recently, Accenture abolished its decades old rankings and the once-a-year employee evaluation process and has begun the process of replacing it with more meaningful and periodic evaluation system. Incidentally, Accenture is not the first organization to do so as companies like Adobe, Microsoft, Juniper have already replaced the older systems.

Recent Technological Trends- SMAC:
The fourth event, is a technological wave- smartly encapsulated in this  acronym- SMAC. The advent of Social, Mobility, Analytics and Cloud technologies are redefining the jobs and roles as we have traditionally known. As a simple example, the messaging service- WhatsApp's android application recently reached 1 billion downloads. As much as this number is baffling, it is more baffling to know that this app was built by the team of just four people. The future of workplace hovers around extremely lean organizations.

Millennial revolution and the Open-source movement:
Though not necessarily in last 5 years or so but there are couple of more events that are indirectly impacting the management profession. One is the trend around rise of millennial employees. By definition these represents the young workforce typically born between 1980 and 2000. This population, which will be more than 50% of the workforce in few years according to some statistics, is bringing about a change in organizations. General characteristics of these folks is that they value transparency, freedom, accountability, responsibility but hate micro-management and stay away from politics of any kind. They naturally don’t appreciate traditional hierarchical structures, which indirectly influences the role manager should play in organizations dominated by millennial. Second, not-so-recent trend is around that of Open Source movement. The grand success of the projects such as Wikipedia and Linux- both of which were built by self-managed groups of hundreds of thousands of users really gives weight to the fact that it is no longer mandatory to have a traditional hierarchy to build world-class products.

Looking back, If EFCS brought the focus back to the value creating employees, the delayering phenomenon ensured that unnecessary management layers were optimized. If disbanding the age-old performance management systems realigned the role of a manager, the technology wave of SMAC, while ensuring leaner organizations took the focus away from the traditional managerial roles. At the same time, workforce dominated by millennial population is slowly but surely changing the rules of management while bringing to the fore self-management principles of the open source movement.

These trends and the resultant impact on the management profession makes us see the need behind Holacracy more clearly. To get it right, Holacracy doesn't mean throwing hierarchy out of the organization and taking decisions only via consensus. Holacracy is also dependent on structures, processes and practices. The typical tasks of management doesn't necessarily go away but they become more distributed, more decentralized.

I will probably just stop here and ask- What is your take on this topic ? Will the traditional manager role cease to exist in the organization of tomorrow ?

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