Harvard Business Review: ‘Managers Can’t Do It All’

One of the most significant trends we’ve seen emerge this year is the transformation of managers. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, managerial roles were changing beyond recognition, with many managers facing changes in skills and power dynamics that left them in a precarious position between dynamic senior leaders and increasingly autonomous team members.

Add to that the structural changes caused by remote working, and many are feeling overwhelmed and unsupported.

In their recent article for Harvard Business Review, titled Managers Can’t Do It All, HSM Founder Professor Lynda Gratton and Diane Gherson, former Chief Human Resources Officer at IBM, observed that managerial roles were originally designed for industrial-era organisational hierarchies. A manager was responsible for directing and overseeing work in a specific time and place to achieve business goals and gain reward and recognition. In today’s flat and fluid organisations, managers are less overseers and more motivational leaders – performance coaches who focus on providing teams with the inspiration and skills development they need to reach their full potential, inviting feedback as well as providing it and ensuring team members feel included and supported.

Up to now, managers have been left on their own to adapt to these changes – with Gartner finding that only 14% of companies had specific support in place. It’s no wonder, then, that the vast majority of people in management roles – almost 70% –are feeling overwhelmed. Now is the time for organisations to take an active role to support managers – and there are many tried and tested approaches to choose from. Standard Chartered tackled the issue by rebranding managers as “people leaders,” encouraging them to focus on developing human connections and providing them with accredited community strengthening skills. At IBM, managers have the support of AI to help alleviate the burden of administrative tasks and provide just-in-time training to help improve the quality of their interactions. Australian telecoms firm Telstra has taken a nuanced approach by splitting the management function into two distinct skill sets: leaders of people who coach groups of similarly skilled employees through their career growth, and leaders of work who manage the flow of work and performance against business imperatives.

Regardless of the method, the purpose and outcome are the same: redesigning manager roles in a way that allows them to build the human skills they need to empower team members and rediscover the status, satisfaction and impact that have proved elusive over the past few years.

You can read Lynda Gratton and Diane Gherson’s reflections on the role of managers in the article Managers Can’t Do It All which is available on the HBR website.