Tale of two companies and the evolution of management

This article uses allegory to compare and explore the need for different management practices as customers and employees evolved in the last two generations. If you don’t like allegory, skip down to the key questions, analysis, and the final point.

The first company, called Traditum, has its proud roots in scenic city of Caprica. Having existed for over 50 years, it has enjoyed a rich well established reputation for great quality products. It employed most of their staff from the city of Caprica, a culture of impeccable self-motivated work ethic born out of history of great war and poverty. Traditum customers loyalty come from the rich history of the company and the great reputation of its products. As one of the best companies in Caprica, Traditum enjoyed the most capable and reputable managers and staff. To uphold its proud history and great product reputation, the Traditum expected of its managers to deliver the highest standards of craftsmanship  ethics, and product quality. These were achieved through great product knowledge, strict quality control, numerous governing policies, and extensive documented processes. Any issue or gap was identified and dealt with quickly. Ambiguity and risks were avoided. Staff loved their work, were very proud of the final product, and require little motivation to maintain these high standards.

The second company, called Novus, was birthed in the busy city of Delta. Even though quite young, the company has identified a lucrative niche market and grown quickly. It developed a reputation for providing a unique, full-feature, progressive, and leading edge product that successfully conquered the market over more traditional options. Customers of Delta city and surrounding regions always had an appetite for new advanced great products. They grew up with little struggle and great financial means. To stay ahead of the increasingly aggressive competition and insatiable evolving customer appetite, Novus focused on innovation. Since Delta city provided a limited pool of talent, the company restructured to take advantage of remote staff from across the entire country and even beyond. Top quality staff were in high demand and frequently head-hunted by their competitors. As such, Novus managers had the difficult task of attracting and keeping top talent. These top performers were driven by many factors including personal growth, professional success, work conditions far over quality of the product. They were motivated by challenges and advancements and innovation, same as customers of the product. Managers were required to create a rich nimble work environments where these top performers could flourish and produce extra-ordinary results quickly. Innovation required embracing risk and ambiguity. Staff loved their work because they were fully engaged creatively and producing ground-breaking products that constantly redefined the market.

Now let’s pause here to ask three very important questions:

  1. What is the primary purpose and value of the role of a manager?
  2. Should management methods be driven primarily by company values or type of staff they manage?
  3. Has your company evolved its core management practices in the last 10 years? 20 years? 30 years?

Most of us probably work for some type of hybrid between those two purely fictional companies. Every company and organization has specific culture and characteristics just like a person. They all have different focus on history, reputation, quality, craftsmanship, innovation, risk, and performance. And these all, are at least in part a byproduct of it’s history, its customer demand, and its values. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of that.

Customers and Staff Evolved
The key issue I’m trying to explore begins in the third question. Most markets have undergone a tremendous amount of change especially in the last 10 to 20 years. The digital age and new generation of customers changed how we understand and sale our products. For most part, there are no golden rules because the is no one kind of customer. Innovation, ambiguity, and risks are a critical part of the product equation. They come with many interests and preferences and even heritages, especially in our multi-cultural Canada. The same goes for the new staff we hire and manage. The low supply / high demand IT & Digital market is favoring candidates, not companies. Top talent is hard to get, has high expectations, and requires companies to manage differently. Their motivations are multifaceted and more complicated (especially for the younger generations). Even at-work relationships are different as staff look for deeper engagement and more meaningful work.

Our Management Approach Has Not (for most part)
20 years ago I would have said that the main purpose of the manager is to provide a safe, efficient, and predictable work environment necessary to create high product quality and consistency. Managers were more like ship captains knowing every aspect of its operations and ensuring everything was done right. But as the market and staff evolved, so has my point of view. Today I would say managers exist to inspire and lead their staff to lands yet unknown. They are coaches working with a team of experts, far beyond their own level of expertise. Our purpose changed (back to question 1) but our methods often stayed the same. We are constantly struggling trying to find an approach that accommodates both our company values AND the changing market / work environment. Perhaps that’s not the answer.

Management Must Evolve

  1. Recruiting Practices – This one is simple. Managers have to evolve their recruiting practices in a low-supply / high-demand market. You have attract the right candidate. You have to sale them the company and the position you’re hiring for. You have to clearly communicate how you’re fulfilling their multifaceted desires and expectations.
  2. Purpose of Management – You’re not a captain commanding your team herding them to deliver a great product. You’re a coach trying to foster, unlock, and accelerate the intrinsic potential in each employee. Your approach has just as much to do with the people you manage, not just company history and values.
  3. Issue-centric vs Goal-centric Focus – With ambiguity + risk + innovation being key components for the product equation, you can’t manage by identifying and correcting issues / gaps. That will be a very frustrating and futile effort. You have to manage by communicating and motivating your team towards an aggressive clear goal. Correct behaviour (absence of issues) will be a result of your leadership and ability to grow your staff.
  4. Staff Motivation and Empowerment – Assume your staff need to be constantly motivated, engaged, and fulfilled. Assume you have to release control to empower your staff simply because they know more. Assume your success as a manager will come from how well you know your staff, not how well you know the product.
  5. Management Performance Measurement – Since management methods need to change, so does the way we measure performance of a manager. If the manager is a coach, they should be measured by increase in staff growth, my their ability to innovate the product, by their staff retention rates and so on.

I’m sure you all have other management methods and practices to add to this list. I’ll be curious to know what they are.

Closing reflection
For those of us that have kids, especially rebellious driven teenagers, we already sense challenges of managing tomorrow’s workforce. I myself am both worried and encouraged. I am worried by the complexity of work ethic and motivation in the new generation. I’m encouraged by their sheer drive, boldness, fearlessness, and wonder. Perhaps they are harder to manage (maybe different not harder) yet they are capable to achieve so much more then we are.

Image Credit: https://clipartfest.com/download/02ff13ec4dc04da5556e3fa2fb742defc7fb4b0d

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