18 January 2010

A New Kind of Manager

I suspect that in the future, work teams will increasingly be coordinating their activities through the Internet and be less reliant on companies. And this will set the stage for a new kind of manager.

Decades ago, if you had told a new recruit that people would pay for the (admittedly kinder and gentler) experience of boot camp, would HIRE someone to push them beyond what they'd do on their own, they would have laughed at you. And yet (probably) millions of people hire personal trainers.

One of the biggest differences between the personal trainer who pushes you and the drill instructor who pushes you is whether the experience is voluntary. The person who is drafted - or even volunteers - has no choice about the experience, however "good" it may be for him. And in this I think that we potentially have a new model of management.

Imagine a future where managers are brought in by teams who realize that they need someone to coordinate their efforts, even to push them at times, in order to realize their potential. Such a model is not so very odd, really. Personal coaches are very common, but personal coaches work with individuals.

Management is a really crucial skill. More so as our world and projects become more complex. It's probably not enough to leave tasks to individual initiative, even if we have more natural (e.g., market) consequences and inducements for such tasks. Able managers will probably always make a good living.

But one of the big problems with current institutions is their reliance on extrinsic motivation - the use of carrot and stick to make things happen. Employees, like the boot camp recruit, have little or no choice about what to do or any ability to define goals or the tasks they want to try. These are assigned. This is good enough in a world where products are scarce and the definition of economic goods is generally limited to goods to have.

Philosophers talk about three kinds of goods: goods to have, goods to do, and goods to be, each higher and more meaningful than the last. Economic progress will shift soon from an emphasis on economic goods to have to economic goods to do. Work is an essential part of this. (We know that Darwin, Jonas Salk, Galileo, Michelangelo, and Andrew Carnegie were historic figures. We tend to forget that they defined themselves - and our civilization - by their work.) And as people come to work more often as a way to (in part) create goods to have and (in part) create for themselves goods to do, a management that is based on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation will be essential. The drill instructor you have no choice but to obey is replaced by the personal coach you hire to help you to realize your potential.

Of course the paradox is that as we focus more on intrinsic motivation and goods to do, we'll actually get more and better goods to have than in the old system. People who are intrinsically motivated are typically more creative, more productive, and do higher quality work. Call me an optimist, but one reason that I'm convinced that such a model will eventually emerge is because it gets better results.

Management as a service rather than form of control. Think about it.


Big Al said...

"Management as a service rather than form of control."
By Jove, Ron, you've GOT IT!
Most of my peers have either been w/the company well over 20 years, *OR*, have well over 20 years experience in their discipline. As such, these people are not "managed". They are nurtured and supported, with the manager's function mainly being to represent these "Subject Matter Experts" to senior management. There were several previous managers who didn't realize all this and the managerial blood bath was like the old-time movie scenes of the poor, hapless soul who either slips or is pushed into the river full of piranha.

Lifehiker said...

Big Al, that was just the way it was in my last organization, and those who could not accept it (above and below) got trashed.

I have a daughter in law who is a hired gun project manager; she often manages large projects, almost entirely over the phone and internet. She is independent, a free-lancer, one who must bring out the best of each person in a decentralized group. She has no shortage of work, just like RWrld would predict.

Big Al said...

Lifehiker, how can I get a gig like your daughter-in-law?

I've been a PM multiple times over the years, often working w/team members all over the world. Amazing how productive we can all be while scattered in so many different time zones.