Death of People Management

I have clients who come to me because they want to manage their teams better and it always leaves me with an uneasy feeling in my stomach.

Behind that discomfort could be a belief that, like “Simon says”: “You manage things, you lead people”.

We are called to stretch ourselves to the point where we are providing our teams with a direction, but without giving a precise map on how to get there.

Management is a noun meaning “the control and organization of something” and that something in this case are young professionals. Ironically, if there are 2 things that today’s young professionals will not tolerate, that is someone controlling them, bossing them around and organizing their work (and sometimes life) for them.

Survey after survey has been showing us that a huge portion of our workforce values flexibility, freedom, work/life balance and meaning over stability, power and money.

Could this also mean the death of people management?

As we know it, probably yes.

Just think about it. When elderly millennials like myself entered the workforce some 15 years ago we were introduced to large organizations like Junior Managers, Product Managers or Business Managers without having the vaguest idea what management actually was. Luckily, back then, we could still count on the systems, structures and procedures being “inflexible enough” to allow us staying on track quite easily.

Then, a decade or so ago, we became people managers and because we wanted to do a “better” job than our predecessors, we started implementing the famous “I do not care how you do it, as long as it gets done within the given frames”.  This was already a huge stretch for most of us since we received years of “control & command” leadership conditioning.

To add on that, growing up with great tools that reinforce our natural tendency to avoid taking any risk and choosing a direction (FB tells you who to meet / Tripadvisor gives you the place to choose and Google maps guides you there) certainly did not make it easier for us to step up our game.

We got caught up in a dangerous spiral, where we have less and less confidence in our own decision making yet we are expected to “show the way” and make decisions for others?

Slippery slope where self-management helps just to the point of keeping up with the game of self-deception and maintaining an image of a manager who gives only apparent freedom to the teams.

The challenge today is that, with innovation and change being the only constant, what used to be our comfort zone, our cost and time framework, basically no longer exist. Therefore, we are being asked to stretch again.

To stretch ourselves to the point where we are no longer defining the framework, but only the direction, the vision. And here is where I see most managers struggle.

Firstly, we are so used to giving directions, yet not that many of us believe themselves to be capable enough to give a direction. We prefer to stick to what we know. We seem to be stuck in a limbo of wanting our teams to take on more accountability and ownership of their responsibilities yet we never really give them an honest chance. Result, our teams never take full leadership of their projects, they stop trying to innovate & re-design the frames and we get what we asked for- pure, straightforward execution. Because, as it turns out, people are not going to take ownership until you, as their leader, take a leap of faith and give them something to take ownership of, completely and fully, without preparing a safety net beneath them. Go figure?!

Secondly, we are products of hierarchy. What that means is that comparison is ingrained in our DNA. We are always either comparing ourselves to the floor above, already projecting where we want to be next year, or looking down at your team, assuming that their lack of experience (compared to yours) somehow makes them “less than”.

Thanks to this “organizational bias”, we are never really looking at one another as people. Instead, we are looking at others as objects that can either enable or disable us in reaching our goals.

Lastly, we spend more time talking about our teams than talking to our teams. We always talk about engaging “them”, motivating “them”, inspiring “them”, without ever stopping to ask ourselves- who is them? Who is John? What are his talents? What gives him energy? What are his goals in life and how can I help him achieve them?

Indeed, this way of managing people is no longer effective, not with the new generations coming on board, not with our realities being increasingly complex and volatile day by day.

In fact, as I stated in the beginning, I do not believe in the concept of managing others for one simple fact; it implies that others are not capable of managing themselves.

The business today presents enough challenges and uncertainties without making people one of them.

So, how about we turn a new page and begin again?

How about we decide on which road to take together?

We begin again by creating space and time to get to know our team members as people, to align our goals and to decide together who wants to be responsible for what.

We begin again by designing the framework together starting with how we want to work as a team, what are our non-negotiables and where can we be flexible.

We begin again by agreeing on collective accountability and not just you to me and me to you.

We begin again by taking away our individual power and passing it forward to our teams.

We define what structures and procedures we need to put in place to be the most efficient entity we can be.

We communicate openly and freely without holding back for the sake of the greater result.

We stop comparing and competing and we start collaborating.

This is how we see the workplace of the future and in that space, there is no need for people managers because we are all managing ourselves, with the guidance, feedback and constant support from others.

If you’d like to empower your team to thrive in the workplace of the future, do not hesitate to contact us. We will help you set the groundwork and create self-sufficient, engaged and resourceful teams in a matter of days.

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