By Merle Riepe, PhD, SOLVE President
What do you anticipate will change in the aftermath of COVID?
It is a question on the minds and mouths of everyone. Although old habits die hard, I contend that management (in its original intent) is drawing in its final breaths. 2021 will bring on the death of management.
Management, as Frederick Winslow Taylor defined it in 1911, is to standardize the one best way to do a job, divide tasks and responsibilities, and create a hierarchy of authority and strict surveillance of employees. Ultimately, the goal was to strip independent thought, creativity, and the contribution of unique talent. This style certainly produced results for Henry Ford and others during the Industrial Age.
Yet, 100 years later and in a new age of work, I observe “management” all the time – certainly, more frequently than I witness leadership. Many aspiring leaders struggle to jettison the command/control, ego-driven thought, “I know best.” “Best” is subjective and does not exist. Of course, in time and with hindsight, we often see what would have been better. The COVID pandemic has made clear Taylorism, Theory X, and their kin, have gone sour for most industries. When workers across the globe were forced home, production did not slip for many. In fact, many corporations reported increases in efficiency and profit (The Pandemic Is Widening a Corporate Productivity Gap, Harvard Business Review, December 2020).
For any person to assume they know “best” based on some unique wisdom they possess is foolhardy. What we need today (and, arguably, have needed since the Information Age began 50 years ago) is leadership. Companies need leaders who can identify exceptional talent, position employees for success, remove barriers to progress, and offer advice (not instruction). Leadership is flexibility in style, understanding the benefit of equitable treatment over equal treatment. Leadership requires an acceptance of failure and a realization learning rarely happens when things go right. It means allowing employees to pursue a path you may not agree is “best” because you and your leaders recognize there is no monopoly on the truth. In fact, there are often multiple “best” paths to a successful outcome.
How do we overcome a 100-year-old habit? It begins with a single step. We must change the narrative we created and passed down among generations of managers. It is the fears and repetitive thoughts our mind repeats and perseveres to protect us, which prohibit us from change. We must address those thoughts by identifying them, the rewards we receive for continuing them, the benefits from incorporating new behaviors, and then habitually practice new thoughts. The results: greater levels of productivity, engagement, and personal satisfaction for the leader and the team.
Don’t we want all our leaders feeling energy and enthusiasm? Don’t all people deserve to work with a leader who thinks in that manner? Imagine the changes to our relationship with work if we were able to accomplish that shift? Leaving the dogmatic paradigms of management to the pre-COVID era will be most welcomed – the shift is on!