What do you see as the challenges of a manager for the 21st Century?
From time to time we respond to questions about the future sent in via email by readers. We don’t have a lot of time for this, but when a question seems especially interesting we offer our thoughts.
Response by Glen Hiemstra, 2000
This is a pretty broad question. We’ll look at three areas where we can already see the stones in the path.
The traditional fences between work time and home time are falling. Working parents need to hear from their kids in the afternoon. Conference calls with colleagues overseas require odd hours. Email pours in from everywhere, at any time. And we can get email on our computers, our pagers, our cellular phones, and our palm pilots, to name just the major sources today. Tele-working generally supports a more varied schedule, and urban congestion drives non-traditional hours. Work and home are both becoming 24/7 propositions.
This destroys the model that you pay an employee for eight hours a day, devoted one hundred percent to work. Maybe you get 95%, and the other 5% happens at night, or maybe it’s 80/20, or even 50/50. So you can’t really manage on time served very well any more.
Some have tried to hang on to the old model, using restrictive internet access policies and detailed monitoring of employees, even to the extent of putting cameras in the office and GPS units on company cars for the purpose of employee monitoring. This does not increase trust and enthusiasm between managers and staff.
Our challenge? Create a work environment that rewards work completed more than hours spent, allows some time chaos, and motivates staff to produce. This environment should acknowledge the very real pressures on staff and support effective systems that work within those pressures while still requiring accountability.
There is a growing shortage of qualified workers.
Earth’s population is nearing the top of the growth curve, and we are in the early stages of spreading out into a vast new territory – space. This is going to become significant over the next few decades.
We are also already faced with a severe shortage of resources at both ends of the bell curve — retail stores are having trouble finding holiday workers this year, and high tech firms are struggling to recruit and keep specialists.
Constant retraining. People are healthier longer and can work for more years. We will not be able to marginalize older workers, but will instead have to train and support them.
Increased productivity. Many tasks will be shifted to automation, or will incorporate automation in new ways. The old paradigm was to put robots on the assembly line. The new one is likely to incorporate automation at the high end of processes, and automation of systems management and design.
Varying Reward Systems
Those of us lucky enough to be in first world countries are almost all prosperous. In most cases, economic health is growing rather than shrinking. The opening of space will increase resources. The increasingly global economy is likely to increase the geographic area which enjoys economic health.
So it becomes a Maslow’s hierarchy thing. If people have food, love, shelter, and health, then they want different rewards on top of that. Sure, some of the young are leaving free-massage ridden dot-coms for traditional companies today. But that’s because the dot-coms were failing to meet the basic needs of stability and salary. Generally, successful workers want more time, more meaningful work, and increased flexibility in their lives.
Combine traditional rewards and a personalized and varying selection of non-traditional benefits.
These are of course, only three of the of pretty easily visible challenges. There are a lot of likely wildcards including completely new materials and manufacturing methods (nanotechnology), human./computer hybrids, new energy sources, and the politicization of multi-national corporations. Managing the the 21st century is bound to test our flexibility and creativity.