It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that we are living in a state of perpetual change, motion, disruption and advances in technology faster than we can keep up with. It’s not just technological change that’s dismantling life as we know it. Socially, demographically, politically and scientifically we are witnessing changes that were never on our radars.

However there is one area that remains pretty firmly rooted in its original mould - management.
Although we no longer expect developed economies to run workplaces like 19th century sweatshops the role of the manager still fulfils a similar expectation. He is the over-seer and the one keeping people in check, responsible for delivering outcomes and measuring results against targets like a modern day production line monitor.
This notion continues to reside within the management psyche even if it shows up today with a benevolent face.
There has of course been some progress in management thinking in the last one hundred years. Leading lights such as Abraham Maslow recognised way back in 1943 that people have evolving needs that culminate in a need to fulfil one’s fullest potential – the state of self-actualisation. Organisational psychologists throughout the years have also recognised the need to motivate people and more recently, the need to engage people at work.
The problem is that not many of these theories have altered workplace culture or management behaviour. We still have the principles of scientific management fathered by Frederick W. Taylor in 1911 firmly in place with its emphasis on compliance, efficiency and cost. Underpinning this is a governance culture held up by policies and processes. Human nature gets severely edited to fit into such structures - and so does human potential.

If organisations are to survive and thrive in a volatile, changing world then they need to look beyond strategy, product and costs and reassess the role of managers too. Managers are far more impactful on the business than organisations realise because they have the biggest influence on the majority of people in the workplace. It's not just strategy determined by the top leaders that matters - it's also the people who can design and deliver it in its most optimal and impactful way that counts.
Managers, in their leadership of people must move from the notion of command to enabling people to flourish. This requires a very different mind-set and evolved emotional state.

Let's look at why we need a new management model now but particularly for the future.
In all major economies the workforce is becoming more educated. A higher percentage of the population is graduating with degrees more than ever before. In the UK this figure rose from 17% in 1992 to 42% in 2017. In 2017 the USA recorded its highest percentage of degree holder graduates with 33.4%.
China aims for 20% of its population to have higher education degrees by 2020. And India aims to achieve 30% of its population graduating from university by 2020.
The world is waiting to be hit with a new breed of employee.
Combine intelligent minds with the temperament of young generations who possess a millennial mind-set and you have employees who can think and know what they want.
Intelligent people don’t need to be supervised or micromanaged. They want to maximise the best of themselves. They don’t want to conform and comply – they want to blossom, be expressed and offer opinion.
Managers will need to be emotionally resilient enough to take on intelligent, expressive people who may be challenging and more technically adept than they are. They will need to acknowledge the whole of their people as personalities and humans and not just the parts of their mind that produce work.
Managers will need to understand that many people, particularly from individualistic cultures such as USA and Europe want to be seen, seek significance and want their achievements to be acknowledged and attributed to them.
Managers who respond to these needs without fear of having their authority eroded will do well. This is just as well as one of the biggest demands for talent is and will continue to be, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) jobs as economies and companies continue to revolutionise life through data, technology and scientific breakthroughs. The challenges won’t just be in recruiting the best people but holding on to them.

The focus in STEM jobs also brings me to the next point. Much of the nature of 21st century work is complex, unclear and investigative. It requires original thinking, creativity, curiosity and persistence. Solutions to meet tough demands from the Product Department may require completely new engineering concepts or technical design. Developing complex data analytics may require intellectual interrogation and dogged pursuit to get exactly what you want.
At this level a multiple array of personal forces have to be engaged to maximise possibilities – the intellect, creativity, persistence, curiosity, commitment, intelligence, will and vision.
What makes a person want to give this much? One who is enthusiastic and rewarded by her efforts – emotionally. The manager who supports her, gives her public credit for her achievements, gives her freedom to explore possibilities, takes on her recommendations and lets her own the project. On the other hand a manager who doesn’t actively champion her or is more interested in his own glory may only get compliance but not the persistence or determination to go the extra few miles and deliver ground breaking solutions.

The constant upgrading in technology will also mean that managers will often acquire people who are more technically skilled than they are. This changes the master-servant relationship somewhat because a manager can’t specify all requirements in the absence of knowing what is possible. A manager who champions her people will however benefit from expertise voluntarily shared.
Such ‘human capital’ is increasingly acknowledged as a valuable commodity for economic and commercial progress. But human capital cannot just be purchased like an object, plugged in and put to work with the expectation of maximum output. To turn it into something extraordinary requires passion, will, creativity and vision. And that of course comes from the manager that enables that person to reach that plane.

The manager must also encourage her people to be in a constant state of growth and learning. Not only do people thrive on this but the pace of change and uncertainty demands it which is why the term ‘learning agility’ has come into force as a desired attribute for employees, managers and leaders alike. This doesn’t mean just technical learning but also growing in personal confidence and soft skills too. This is where a manager can be instrumental. Opportunities to present, take on new responsibilities, attend meetings with the manager or go to free conferences (often put on by suppliers) are all growth experiences which don’t debit the training budget but can yield great returns for the organisation such as commitment, loyalty, greater knowledge and great work.

Demographic changes in parts of the world are also bringing in increasingly diverse workforces. Europe in particular has experienced significant immigration in the last few years from within the European Union and non-EU countries. Cultural homogeneity is waning particularly in cities such as Inner London where 41% of its population is foreign born.
Organisations have long been using diversity training in recognition of multi-cultural populations and international business which is a great thing. However its not the sole answer to managing culturally diverse teams of people.
I’ve worked with people across the world and managed staff in UK and Hong Kong. Although I have an inbuilt ‘cultural radar’ as a British born Indian what supported my ability to bridge cultures more than anything else was coming from human values. This global language is common across all cultures because every person wants respect, recognition and validation more than they want you to know about kimchi.
One of the best managers I ever had was when I worked in Hong Kong. He was an American from San Francisco. He was extrovert, talkative and expressed his views without any self-editing – a sharp contrast to the culture of the company which portrayed complaisance and humility. His vocabulary and jokes were often lost on his Chinese staff. But we all loved him because he managed with human values that transcended culture and connected to the heart. He supported, developed and encouraged us, believed in us and credited us publicly to senior leaders. There was no stronger motivation for being our best selves and producing great work.

Organisations make the mistake in thinking they just need to recruit the person with the right experience, technical skills and personal qualities to deliver their projects. However that is just the start. They need the right managers who are talented enough to flip the switch on in people and allow their potential to be unleashed.

If the case made in the points above aren't compelling enough then consider this: The challenges for future management are set against a background of extreme employee disengagement. According to Gallup’s latest survey results in 2017 85% of the world’s one billion workforce is disengaged with their work. This costs US$7 trillion in lost productivity and according to Gallup is one of the reasons for lowered global productivity in the last few decades.
As relationships with managers are often a reason for disengagement the imperative to fix broken people management skills and overhaul them to reach new levels of achievement could not be any more urgent today and for a future that will be challenging on many fronts.

By Harjeet Virdee


UK office for National Statistics

USA Census Bureau

OEDC report on tertiary education 2014

The Migration Observatory, University of Oxford

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2017