2021: The year of ‘perma-management’?
Whether it’s managing workers remotely, rallying teams while lending an attentive ear to each individual, or juggling time spent in the office and time working remotely, COVID-19 has reshuffled the cards when it comes to the role of managers working in businesses worldwide.
What if, in the coming year, lessons learned in the pandemic were taken onboard to make way for a more horizontal approach to management, drawing on the idea of permaculture in the workplace? Welcome to Episode 5 of ETX Studio’s “After Calendar” of incoming trends for 2021.
“Before, managing was about motivating teams and moving forward together to achieve results. Today, you have to manage fragility. It’s new emotional territory in the workplace. At any time, you know that your troops can crack. And you yourself are shaken up by the context, the uncertainty. So you have to advance on moving ground,” said Julia, a senior manager in the media sector. “All the more so as the objectives themselves have become more friable. From now on, you have to manage in times of uncertainty. And it’s a new job to reinvent.”
According to a survey carried out in March for the French executive recruitment website Cadremploi, 63% of managers said that the country’s first lockdown had a major impact on their relationships with their co-workers. These workers had to adapt in record time to working remotely full-time — a practice that was relatively rare in France before COVID-19.
“For a long time, managers have been focused on technical and organizational concerns, and were duty-bound to meet economic and financial imperatives. The public health crisis has forced them to rethink life in the workplace and to concern themselves with the health of their co-workers, to take on board listening and support skills. The coming years, for managers, will be about succeeding in optimizing remote working, as much in the technical management of projects, as in human relations and the human intelligence that they require,” said university professor Olivier Meier, head of the Observatoire ASAP and author of “Les RH à l’ère du Covid-19” (HR in the era of Covid-19) (Dunod, 2020).
Breaking bad news and bearing employees’ emotional burdens
Beyond the organization of working both remotely and in person, another aspect of the manager’s role has been brought into focus and amplified by the pandemic: the emotional burdens of employees and the breaking of bad news (death, redundancy and cancellation of critically important projects, for example).
“Given the current economic crisis that’s coming, it is possible that announcing redundancies could become much more frequent and the focus of managerial discussions and concerns in the coming years,” warned Fabrice Cavarretta, who teaches leadership and entrepreneurialism at the ESSEC business school.
A major challenge for managers and HR teams therefore will be to find the right ways to communicate with employees.
“In these difficult times, companies will be obliged to renew their organizational and managerial model while taking care to maintain the trust of their teams. This trust depends on the care and attention that those in charge pay to their employees. It involves knowing how to share a collective dynamic based on a clear strategy and to explain the way in which decisions are made, with total transparency,” noted Meier.
Swapping pyramid structures for a more horizontal approach to management
Has the COVID-19 crisis also helped speed up the end of an organizational model governed by a vertical hierarchy?
“The current trend is clearly oriented towards horizontal and cooperative-style organizational models, which leave lots of room for initiative, creativity and innovation, whether social or managerial. Certain professionals are currently considering the possibility of a collective contract which would appoint not one individual but several for a given period,” said Meier.
Cavarretta offered a similar analysis: “Today, a manager will pay a heavy price if they think they can get away with considering their employees as ‘mere’ sub-contractors. Human beings need social and emotional interactions. This is, in my view, a crucial social system that the manager must maintain if they want to motivate and deploy teams effectively.”
This type of horizontal management, a change already underway before the pandemic but speeded up considerably since, could be dubbed “perma-management,” echoing the principles of permaculture. Like a farmer or a gardener taking care of their land, the “perma-manager” takes care to avoid the pitfalls of “intensive productivity,” which would result in exhausting the resources of their workers.
On the contrary, their role involves boosting the fruitfulness of employees by giving them greater independence in their tasks, by giving value to the skills of each individual and putting them to use in ways that benefit their teams.
Still, this new organizational model is unlikely to do away with managers in companies altogether, thought Meier.
“Contrary to what we might think, the end of pyramid-like structures doesn’t necessarily mean doing away with a clear system of authority, capable of coordinating multiple and varied actions in the greater interest. While the COVID-19 crisis has shaken up the economic life of companies, it is important that the organization maintain a basis of rational-legal authority, capable of uniting around a shared foundation players who are more and more diverse and isolated,” said Meier.” CC
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