It is that time of the year when new resolutions have to be made and new plans for accomplishing them. Welcome 2022 – hopefully it will be different from its immediately preceding two years!
The question for budding and growing managers is, what skills will help one stay relevant in 2022 and beyond? Does one need to reskill, upskill or change the track completely – move from an established organisation to a start-up? Will acquiring skills in fintech pay higher dividends to one’s talent? Let’s explore – let’s gaze into the crystal ball and see what it has to offer for career development at the management level.
2022 will see a stronger adoption of digitalisation, and knowledge of technology will become core to all managerial roles. Business strategies, operational efficiencies and people management will leverage the power of technology and therefore, not knowing about relevant technologies or delegating it to the traditional IT folks, will not be a safe option. Business knowledge (domain) along with technology awareness (digital skill) will become a manager’s core capability, like use of analytics – marketing analytics, financial analytics, HR analytics, supply chain analytics, etc. will become essential skills.
In the context of digitalisation, four skills/capabilities that managers must have are elicited below.
- Problem Solving capability,
- People Management Skills,
- Effective Communication and
- Creative Thinking ability.
Here’s a low down on them.
Dismiss this skill at your own peril!
Thinking I am already a problem-solver is just the beginning…. a long distance to traverse lies ahead!
VUCA, in the business context, has been already stressed upon. However, at most entry-to-mid levels of management, work is still very structured and their outcomes are predictable. Therefore, many management skills are still oriented towards problem solving in ‘known areas’ and management style is one of ‘directing’ – telling the team what to do, when, how, why, etc. It is also understood that ‘the manager’ has sufficient knowledge and experience to deal with all situations and therefore the challenging part of the role is to ‘manage’ the tasks and get the expected outcome. Roles therefore demanded familiarity with the problem and their known approaches to solving them, which were considered as ‘expertise’. The problem solving skills managers had to demonstrate was in identifying the best available skill/solution that can be deployed in a given situation.
Now organisations are getting flatter and the hierarchy doesn’t clearly differentiate between levels. As an entity competing in the global context, the VUCA phenomenon shows up at the entry level of management itself. Operations are becoming agile and flexible on account of new competitors who are redefining the rules of the game. Hence, being faster, responsive, reactive and proactive are essential skill sets at the operating level. How quickly can the workforce adapt to the new environment is the people's challenge to the leaders; what should be the strategic response to new competition is the directional challenge to the organisation; how much tolerance should be there for trials and tests is a challenge to the culture. Are only business leaders responsible to deal with such scenarios to find solutions? No! Solving such problems need a collaborative approach and collective contribution will positively impact the sustenance of the business.
The change businesses are expected to contend with in future is a combination of speed and scale. Speed requires quick responses that operating managers need to do more, while scale requires foresight and guts, which senior management needs to deal with more. However, it is the combination of the two factors that will compel the interlocking of managerial levels to work together. This is why organisation structures are getting lean so that top, middle and entry level managers blend their roles to keep the organisation relevant.
Frequent changes in strategies and operational methods will be necessitated on account of the uncertainties in the environment. Managers therefore, besides being aware of tools and techniques to solve the ‘known’ problems, will need an attitude and fortitude to deal with ‘new’ challenges too, which may not yield predictable outcomes.
People Management Skills:
HR is dead! Long Live People Management!!
Even though technologies are making inroads into business activities, the managerial focus shall still remain on people management. Technology is essential for business, but people are its purpose – employees, suppliers and customers, together. And hence, people management is not the sole responsibility of one function. This responsibility is getting democratised and is becoming a necessary condition for being a successful manager.
‘People’ is a complex subject. And this complexity is only getting enhanced on account of the changes in the environment:
- General awareness and knowledge levels of today’s workforce joining the corporate world is much higher than what it was a decade ago, and has been steadily increasing on account of easy access to information.
- Work is getting more intellectual and less physical and hence, job skills cannot be differentiated on gender basis.
- Jobs are getting mobile – jobs travel to the best resource that can do it – the workforce is therefore getting global, bringing in global prejudices, perceptions, privileges and practices.
Managers no longer have a team that comprises people with homogeneous skillsets. Every individual is unique and there’s an expectation that every employee be treated at an individual level. Great-place-to-work organisations take cognisance of individual’s aspirations, feelings and desires. This is not restricted to the best performers or those in the fast-lane of growth. Business situations themselves are such that it becomes difficult to predict who will emerge as the next champion performer. It is the diversity in skills, capabilities, thinking and feeling that makes an organisation a great place to work and the reason for its suppliers and customers to stay engaged with it.
The pandemic provided organisations an opportunity to express their sensitivity towards people and also make the subtle transition from process to people centric practices. Sustaining that and making it the norm for the future will be an essential managerial task.
As is often said, people leave an organisation because of a ‘bad manager’. It is now the manager’s task to ensure that processes, culture and environment allow employees to work at different paces and give them balance in their personal and professional lives. In the context of hybrid work, managers have to become more sensitive towards different employees' environments. The Gen Z and Alpha may have already triggered the need for a change in people management practices with their attitude, approach and desires. The globalised workforce, and hybrid work environment, add to the complexities making people management skill a basic and essential requirement at all levels of management.
The real skills that every manager must possess are very generic. Good business managers are expected to be empathetic and good listeners. Some traits of successful people managers are:
- While they remain firm on their objectives, they are also friendly with the teams;
- They are target oriented but show tolerance towards results achieved; effort is recognised and outcome is accepted.
- They compete fiercely to make workplace appear like a war-zone, they also show warmth and offer peace-time;
- They are passionate about their work yet unbiased and compassionate with people;
- They demonstrate leadership qualities but also express genuine human frailties – express their vulnerabilities, acknowledge their lack of knowledge on a subject, etc.
It pays to keep quiet
As a skill, it remains as one of the most essential leadership skills that managers must have. The ability to make people understand, act in accordance and provide them with necessary support to keep them motivated, is effective communication. Often, communication is associated with high ability to speak and write. However, non-verbal and simple communication is even more relevant in today’s context where people are separated physically but connected virtually.
Effective communication starts with listening – the ability to listen to others before giving a response or providing an answer is part of a cultured behaviour. In the digital world, where everything gets recorded and can be replayed in future, managers and leaders need to be wary about what they are communicating in written and spoken forms. In a diverse work force, which may not be familiar with colloquial lingo or emotions, it is even more important for having utmost clarity and simplicity in communication.
As online interactions become more prevalent, managers have the additional responsibility to communicate in a more empathetic manner – acknowledging the challenges of the team member, being truly helpful and supportive. Team members aren’t satisfied by policies and bulletin board information. They expect one-on-one clarification or communication for their problems or needs.
An important aspect of interpersonal communication is to receive more than to give – managers and leaders need to act as coaches who enable their wards to arrive at a decision themselves rather than lead them to a preconceived point of view. Managers have to recognise that employees themselves are intelligent, talented and resourceful, yet they need some support, motivation and guidance, which is not tantamount to solving their problems. Hence, rather than being ‘directing’ managers, managers need to be buddies or friends, who are willing to travel along and discover through the journey.
The aspect of developing trust in the leadership team lies with the managers. Putting that onus onto systems and procedures will make managers less competent. In order to win employees’ trust, managers must be able to explore within the system what is good for the employee rather than refer to the process and say that ‘the system makes me do …’. Once employees start trusting their manager, team bonds become very strong which is an essential ingredient in great team performances especially during trying times. This is what VUCA is about – the goal posts may keep changing but the team needs to continue performing.
One of the strongly advocated management philosophies is ‘fail fast, learn and move on’. But when the environment changes fast, the manager’s standard response is ‘do what it takes but give me results’. This approach will not be effective going forward. Teams will neither see it as a challenge nor as a motivation to excel when the manager is uninvolved in the proceedings. The workforce will respond to unusual situations only when the manager provides the team with a safety net and communicates with them at an emotional level. Unless the manager is able to instill trust within the team through unambiguous communication, creative ideas won’t get an opportunity to express themselves, which, in a changing environment, will be a huge deterrent. While the manager can lead the team by focusing on results, s/he also needs to be supportive of any of the possible outcomes that the efforts may lead to. Without the safety net of trust, employees won’t have the urge to respond to the manager’s call.
Effective communication comprising verbal and non-verbal, is an essential skill for leading teams that embrace diversity of skills, backgrounds and beliefs. Being aware of the challenges of communication is the first part, finding ways of overcoming them and interacting with people at an individual level is where successful managers will thrive.
New solutions for new age problems!
‘You will only get what you got if you continue doing what you did’ – this is quite an apt adage for exhorting managers to think out of the box.
n the near future, the business problems that managers will be solving will be those that either don’t have a known solution, and therefore, something has to be created or discovered, or, a solution is possible by combining knowledge and experience from other departments and functions or adapting practices from other industry verticals. This calls for two kinds of skills – knowledge through experience and creative thinking. Knowledge which can be honed, is a slow process and needs a wide variety of experiences to back it. Creative thinking on the other hand, is a process of approaching a solution for a given problem.
While the skill refers to ‘creative’, there’s a method to the thinking, which provides the framework to define the problem and approach the solution from multiple perspectives. Of course, focused views will always yield a better result, but will not be exhaustive in its coverage or impact. The creative thinking ability will allow managers to understand the pros and cons of various options in an interlinked manner to choose one which appears most impactful.
Consider this example: can an extraordinary raise in compensation reduce attrition? Yes, but it can also drain the company financially. Hence, can the attrition problem be tackled as a combination of raise in compensation, sense of belonging, autonomy at workplace, recognition, strong safety net, etc.? In the globalised context, the problems and even their solutions are globalised and therefore creative thinking becomes essential.
Creative thinking is open to criticism – since it tends to move towards an optimised or a compromised option although with the intent of serving a larger goal, defects and limitations in the solution will be there. It will never offer a ‘perfect’ solution, but over time, the solution can be refined to make it more acceptable and complete. The approach can also be a trial and error method, which will require stakeholders to be optimistic and confident about the possible outcomes. This is where implicit faith in the leadership team helps in finding solutions quickly. Creative thinking thrives when the culture is protective and less critical towards failures. There are new choices to be made and even the options may not be clear.
In contrast, why should companies give up their existing practices, processes and systems, which are well-oiled and reliable? The answer lies in the nature of the problem the organisation chooses to address. If the problem is from the past, the current team and systems may be adequately equipped and skilled to respond. However, if the preparation is for the future – the problem is anticipated or awaited, then managers must develop a strong creative thinking atmosphere for the organisation to survive and thrive.
In 2022, which may be referred to as the beginning of the post-pandemic-period, is going to witness novelties – business operations will become more automated and digitalised, governing bodies will seek higher transparency in the network of operations, while the general public will demand greater accountability from the stake holders in protecting and preserving the environment. Business challenges will shift from seeking competitive advantage to compliance and preserving ecosystems. Leaders and managers will have to develop the right toolkits to defend and drive ahead.
The crystal ball indicates that managers need to reskill themselves on tools, technologies and industry domains besides developing their thinking capabilities and their attitude towards dealing with people and uncertainty in the environment. This is the mantra for survival in 2022!