Leadership vs. Management in the New-Age Work Environment

Date:   Wednesday , October 08, 2014

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The world of work as we used to know it has changed forever. Yet by and large our management practices have remained the same. To be clear the basic objectives - understanding needs of the organization,having a clear strategy and communicating vision to all - will be evergreen. But it is my belief that HOW we go about achieving those look completely different from the past. As geographic boundaries blur and we operate in a cohesive global economy, it forces us to think cross culturally. With the advent of millenials (65 percent of India\'s population is under-25), it is imperative we understand these new employees who come with a very different world-view and expectations from management. And finally in an always-on world where change is often happening in real-time, speed of decision-making becomes a vital competitive advantage we must harness. So where earlier we needed managers to \"manage\" (implying a top-down command structure), success in the new work environment is contingent on managers becoming leaders that \"lead\" (implying a decentralized style of functioning).

Here are three aspects to think about in making this shift:

Where and how you look for information must be different: Given how fast things move and how much data one has access to, spotting trends early and learning from others\' experiments can be a huge benefit even if they come from a different geography, industry or function. We\'ve instituted peer-sharing forums like global all-hands & sister city programs to help teams collaborate, identify relevant insights and stimulate each other. Moreover it\'s important to leverage the fact that our younger workforce has a very different way of looking at things. I highly encourage initiatives like reverse-mentoring and employee listening sessions to ensure we are tapping into the slew of fresh thinking happening on our teams everyday.

Decision-making must be iterative rather than definitive: In the past there may have been a single solution to the problem (and if something failed you found out much later). Today, markets change much quicker and signals are being sent by customers and users much more frequently. In such an environment, time to market becomes a competitive advantage so we must be comfortable making quicker, more 80/20, calls and then iterating/course-correcting along the way. Moreover, every failure is really just a learning experience so as leaders, we must encourage pilots and experiments that allow teams to fail fast so they can learn quicker (just as the consumer internet does).

Management by empowerment yields higher degree of success: Research shows increased in productivity from happier, more engaged employees (Revenues at Fortune-100 Best-Companies-to-Work-for were ~22 percent higher and they added 5X more new employees than national average). Therefore our job as leaders (at every level) now becomes to facilitate and empower an engaged, motivated workforce rather than command and control an uninspired, fearful one. While decentralized decision-making encourages creativity and empowers people, it remains critical that the leader helps shape the \"sandbox\" in which to experiment so that risks taken are in fact intelligent. Setting a shared team goal / BHAG that strikes the right balance between being aspirational and achievable is an important way to unlock the constraints within our team\'s thinking. Moreover taking time to establish and nurture a shared team culture helps instill a greater sense of ownershipand company-first orientation among employees. Then the role of leadership becomes to role-model the culture and coach teams with feedback so there is clear accountability along with empowerment. Finally, I am a firm believer of thework-hard, play-hard mantra.We use various levers like office/facility design and greater employee engagement as strategic initiatives to foster happier andmore productive employees.

In a nutshell, the role of a leader in the new work environment becomes to go from just managing to leading and inspiring others towards a shared objective. I have personally experienced the power of this model and seen teams (and hence their leaders) achieve great success from it. I invite you to think about how to cultivate leaders that can help inspire and unlock the immense potential of your own organization!