These are historical times

Did you know that we are now in the second part of the C19 managerial evolution?

In the first part we focused on “doing the same things we had been doing but in a different manner.” Thus, we still went to ‘office’. Not via a physical commute but by jumping over home chores. The office cubicle got replaced by a box on a screen. The office desk by a corner of the dining table with breakfast remains still uncleaned. Business prospecting moved from the real world of handshakes to the virtual world of WhatsApp messages, webinars and phone calls. Servicing client requests moved from warm smiles and handshakes to a 24 x 7 helpline, email follow-ups and a NPS scoring follow through. Even the 24 x 7 call-centre moved ‘home’. Agents now respond to calls in their shorts and sarongs. Internal auditors adopted the smart phone camera to review process compliance at remote outlets. Team meetings went hyper with shoddy connections, frozen screens yet serious intent. In fact, chilling with colleagues, friends, family Zoomed.

Our social calendar was as busy as ever. We were seriously busy doing exactly the stuff we had done earlier but in a different manner.

We are scared to let go of the way of life that we are so used to.

We felt productive. At home, we proudly showed our children, our parents, our partners, that we did real work. We had meetings early in the mornings and late in the evenings. Despite the world crashing to a slowdown, we maintained our hectic work pace.  Balancing between connecting to a work-call or rushing out to grab living essentials, when the lock-down was relaxed. Our work diaries show that we were super productive with back to back meetings and serious follow-up calls. To be fair, despite the catastrophic impact on the economy, Companies that managed to sprint toward this new way of working performed relatively better than those that froze into inactivity.

In a sprint, rapid complete burn of energy generates burst of momentum. Which is what Part 1 of the C19 management response was all about – a quick burst of energy towards:

  1. intense focus on task completion
  2. detailed review of progress, multiple times a day
  3. top-down no-discussion just-do-it diktat orders
  4. rapid grab of shrinking opportunity

But, this management technique, which we, and many other successful companies deployed, was appropriate for a sprint. It worked wonders for the results of the company but broke people emotionally. I became excessive anxious, had difficulty in sleeping, was shouting at my colleagues and was losing effectiveness. Only after few days of break from work, and in near isolation, did I recover my equanimity. I realized that what I had diagnosed as a sprint was a never-ending marathon. And a marathon requires endurance, replenishment, courage and a steady pace.

These are historical times. How we act in the next few months will have a significant impact on our company and on the well being of our colleagues. It does not make sense to act in the way when the norm was a 9-to-5 physical office. That reality is over. Though I don’t know the future, i feel we need to do new things. As of now, I don’t know the answer but feel, that the successful leaders of tomorrow will be those, who ask the question: what do we do now? And not: how do we do it now?

Here are my work-in-progress thoughts on this question:

The future of management will be different. While competitive elements and associated techniques will remain, there will be more focus on shared interests. Talent would choose to work with employers who endure and create rather than devour and compete. It will be more about creating a thriving community rather than just a bright company. Thus, I believe, the future of successful management of business will rest on building competitive endurance by bulking on:

  1. shared concern by and for colleagues
  2. capabilities for deploying agile cohorts as working teams
  3. performance review which value collaboration
  4. working around the rhythm of a home (and not the other way around)
  5. non-financial metrics of company health  

What I had hoped to be a temporary change in our operating environment seems to be a historical turning point for the way we humans will now organize. The answers of the past will not help us navigate the future. We need to be humble enough to ask new questions. I am excited by this opportunity to revive. I am scared.

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