The Agile Manager: Redefining Roles for the Digital Age

The advent of a novel generation of digital technologies has hastened the dissolution of bureaucracy, thereby augmenting enterprises’ impetus for transformation. Telstra, IBM, Standard Chartered Bank, among others, have notably adapted their internal management ethos and paradigms.

In Linda Gratton’s recent work, “The Future of Work,” the author of “The 100-Year Life” offers a reinterpretation for the public on how managers, pivotal to corporate operations, can reshape their functional awareness amidst escalating digitalization. She exemplifies this through the manager training model at Standard Chartered Bank, seeking to inspire corporate executives.

01 Exemplary managers serve as the vital conduit between employees and their tasks.

Reflecting on various company cases shared earlier, the role of managers (though not always conspicuous) remains pivotal. They oversee workflows, consider team schedules, and allocate time for critical tasks. They evaluate whether these arrangements cater to their team’s needs and whether colleagues are learning new skills or merely repeating existing ones.

Managers also champion fairness and advocate for respectful treatment and dignity among employees. Moreover, they coach employees to enhance their current skills or guide them to reskill for future roles.

It is evident that competent managers play a crucial role in redesign efforts. Nonetheless, it is perplexing that the spotlight has long been on leaders, leaving some to question the role of managers. Describing managers as “permafrost” underscores their overlooked status in redesign efforts. Thus, the challenge lies in aligning their roles with their increasing significance.

Until then, they will struggle to support the pivotal changes that redesign initiatives bring forth. We must carefully consider how to better acknowledge and bolster managers’ pivotal functions.

From 2013 to 2020, Diane Gersson served as the Chief Human Resources Officer at IBM under CEO Gini Rometty. In a webinar by HSM Consulting in March 2021, we delved into the subject of managers and their functional roles. We posed two questions to senior executives from 60 global companies: Firstly, “How would you describe your daily experience as a manager?” Secondly, “How do you anticipate the functional role of managers evolving post-epidemic?”

Responses to the first question regarding managers’ current functional role were predominantly negative, with two recurring themes: burnout and frustration. A year into the pandemic, managers are beginning to feel the strain. This sentiment is not novel.

A 1940 study on managers revealed that they had only 23 uninterrupted minutes of work. In 1965, a Swedish research team observed highly fragmented roles among managers. Henry Mintzberg’s 1973 study described managers’ working conditions: relentless pace, frequent interruptions, and action-oriented focus.

The fragmentation and burdening of managers’ roles were partly instigated by process re-engineering and technological innovations. Furthermore, as AI and automation relieve managers of administrative tasks, their roles become increasingly digital with broader spans of control. Internal digital platforms like Tata Consultancy Services’ Knome platform enable direct leader-employee interaction, sidelining managers who might otherwise have been integral to management circles.

Some companies have embraced flexible working, transitioning from fixed teams to mobile project teams, further diminishing day-to-day manager-team interactions. Consequently, managers face heightened responsibilities, increased pressure, and inadequate support. As we contemplate work redesign, there lies an opportune moment to redefine managers’ functional roles.

02 Four important mentality of excellent managers

Despite the severe challenges faced by managers, many are still performing well, especially during the epidemic prevention and control period. When we asked the second question to our webinar respondents – “How do you think the functional role of managers will change after the epidemic?”, more than 80% of the comments were positive, with the most mentioned There are three words: guidance, happiness and communication.

During the epidemic prevention and control period, excellent managers provided guidance to employees and fully communicated with them. A Microsoft study analyzing daily employee mindset survey data clearly illustrates this fact. These studies reveal a consistent pattern: When managers step in to help teams set priorities, cultivate team culture, and support employees’ work-life balance, teams feel more connected to each other and have better attitudes toward their work. Be more positive.

A research team from Tata Consultancy Services found the same thing. They reviewed the impact of interactions with managers on team performance. Some of the angles of analysis are how managers communicate: Do they email every day, or every week? Do they prefer a project management committee format, or do they prefer face-to-face meetings? Do they meet with team members individually or in an all-hands meeting?

The research team then linked these communication styles to team performance. Ashok Krish, head of digital offices at Tata Consultancy Services, told me, “We find that managers who regularly communicate one-on-one with their team members have the best teams.” As Diane concludes, these top managers have made four important mindset shifts.

First, they have moved away from the traditional hierarchical and manager-led notion of “my team is here to make me successful” to a more team-focused mentality: “I am here to make my team successful. .”

Great managers achieve this in a variety of ways, such as by enabling employees to be engaged, motivated and skilled, coaching and giving feedback, and creating a supportive and inclusive work environment.

Second, their mentality has changed from exclusive resources to shared resources. This means changing their functional role from “I’m watching out for my team member’s next promotion and controlling their behavior as they leave the department” to one of openness, sharing and collaboration: “I’m coaching my team Grow and help them identify opportunities to move.”

This mindset shift, which puts the needs of the team first, was already in place before the pandemic. The epidemic has affected where and when people work. This shift has created more complex schedules and requires more targeted design of work processes.

Thirdly, as more and more companies transform from structured teams to fluid teams, the concept of a good manager has changed from “I manage and control a complete team” to “My team is fluid and some team members Projects are executed in other departments and there are also employees seconded from other departments.”

Finally, with increased flexibility in time and location, good managers shift their mindset from “I assign work to members within the team and the work needs to be done in the office” to working in a completely different environment Manager, i.e. “The work can be done from anywhere, the focus is on tasks and projects, and I can also tap into external talent.”

This shift has important implications for managing and evaluating team performance, from “I evaluate performance by directly supervising work and setting annual goals” to “I focus on work by continually prioritizing work and providing guidance.” Here’s what the company Some ideas on how to support managers in developing these four mindsets.

03 Standard Chartered Bank: Managers are also coaches

Standard Chartered Bank is a retail bank with more than 1,200 branches in 70 countries. More than 90% of the bank’s profits come from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. For the executive team, managers’ skills are viewed as critical. As head of people Tanuj Kapilashmi explained to me: We do a lot of work on values ​​and what they mean for leadership.

Over the course of two years, we focused our attention on the top 1,000 leaders. We spend millions on leaders, but we realize we need to support people in management roles. It is very easy to describe managers as the “permafrost” of the enterprise and blame managers for the lack of change.

But we ask ourselves, are they “permafrost” or our greatest opportunity? We realized we had never really invested in managers and looked at their functional roles from a data perspective. We want to democratize access to leadership tools. Deciding how best to support 14 000 managers required some creative thinking.

Tanuki explained, starting with the change in the team’s naming of “People Directors,” that it was a symbolic change, but it was more than that, because we started to think of these managers coming together as a group. We are making this role clearer and demonstrating its importance by creating a certification process.

These managers now come together as a community. For example, our CEO Bill Winters had a call this morning with our head of people. The challenges we encountered were of a very high standard, so it was also a real learning opportunity. We see these managers as coaches, conveners of capabilities, and carriers of culture.

1) Behavioral promotion

In one experiment, the executive team developed a self-diagnostic approach, building data on various management activities and then creating behavioral nudges around the results. Tanuj shared one of the examples:

By looking at hiring data from the previous week, we realized that for every 10 hiring opportunities in a group, managers couldn’t find one diverse person. We wanted to bring this data back to the entire community, so we wrote a report, How to Drive More Diversity on Your Team. We start implementing a series of behavioral nudges, usually around very critical “moments that matter.” For example, in diversity recruiting, we show managers the key points they need to make key decisions and how they think about them. These nudges are important, and instead of viewing such moments as a sign of failure, view them as a learning opportunity.

2) Focus on guidance

Standard Chartered has also tried to broaden the scope of its guidance. The bank has a decades-long tradition of mentoring leaders and training them to become instructional coaches. This is one of the unique “labels” of the organization. The challenge is that what works for hundreds of people becomes impractical for thousands.

So teams began trying to support their own people leaders to become instructional coaches. Tanuj explains: If a people leader wants to train to be an instructional coach, we provide them with formal certification and pay half the cost. We hope they can provide guidance to five others. As people think about the future, many realize that giving feedback and guidance

Guidance is crucial, and they hope to improve on this valuable ability.

Only 500 people applied to the program initially, and after three rounds, thousands of people participated, and the number of applicants was oversubscribed. Tanuj continued: “We welcome this because ultimately we want to build a deep coaching culture within the company. This upskilling enables people leaders to ‘pass the skills on’, that is, they invest now skills that become more valuable over time.” This also allows Standard Chartered to move forward with the process of expanding its leadership team. Their teams are spread across 20 African countries, creating opportunities for local people and developing skills that will be valuable for the future.

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