The evidence shows that while telecommuters create positive change, the major resistance against telecommuting comes from management.
Our recent report showed that many workers we surveyed viewed managerial and executive resistance to telework as a major obstacle.
Through interviews, we learned that executives saw the benefits of using flexible work to their advantage as a negotiating tool for recruitment, promotion, retention and motivation, but they often worried about the costs of training and potential culture change.
They expressed concern that allowing telecommuting could create inequitable outcomes in the workplace, and possibly negatively impact morale.
The problem with work today is management. Often, it is detrimental to our well-being. But it is pervasive. Maintaining this status quo of management is the core operating model of global management consultancies like McKinsey.
“We are now living with the consequences of the world McKinsey created. Market fundamentalism is the default mode for businesses and governments the world over. Abstraction and myth insulate actors from the atrocities they help perpetuate. Businesses that resisted the pressure to rationalize every decision based on its impact on shareholder value were beaten out or eaten up by those who shed the last remnants of their humanity. With another heavyweight on the side of management, McKinsey tipped the scale even further away from labor, contributing directly to the increase in wealth inequality plaguing the world. Governments are now more similar to the private sector and more reliant on their services. The “best and the brightest” devote themselves to client service instead of public service. —Current Affairs 2019-02-05
The dominant management model is reinforced by an expressed attitude that human work is something that can be broken into components and used like bits of machinery. People are merely the sum of the work that can be extracted from them by the capitalist machine. They have no other value in a capitalist economic system, and hence are always viewed as expenses.
Making management part of the hierarchy destroys the entrepreneurial nature of work, requiring more control measures to ensure compliance. Removing management from the hierarchy is probably the simplest thing that could be done to improve innovation and increase the motivation of those who really create business value.
Management at Asana is seen as service role, rather than the next step in the pyramid on the org chart. The usual model, where exceptional work leads inevitably to the management track is a mistake, Rosenstein argues. “The effect of that is that individual work is looked down on,” he says. “That is so caustic.” –What managers do at a company that’s trying to replace them with software
As networks become the dominant organizational form, the way we think about management has to change. You cannot manage a network. In a network society, we influence through reputation, based on our previous actions. This is why transparency of work and trusted human connections are important. Others need to see what we are contributing to the network. Those who contribute to their networks will be seen as valuable and hence will have a better reputation and may be able to influence others. Management in networks is fuzzy.
Management has to become more human. Christian Madsbjerg concludes in his book, Sensemaking: “What are people for? Algorithms can do many things, but they will never actually give a damn. People are for caring.” The future of management is humanity, not big data.
“A workforce that receives insufficient emotional attention from management will resist change or participate half-heartedly, no matter what threats are made or rewards are promised.
Having no emotions themselves, intelligent machines are incapable of empathy. Even if they could be programmed to fake empathy realistically—which is improbable—it would have little impact as long as people knew they were talking to a machine. Thus, intelligent machines may become very useful support tools, but are unlikely to displace the best managers.
Moreover, as automation advances there will be even more demand for top-tier techies. Engineers, computer designers, data scientists, etc. will be increasingly able to write their own ticket. Yet they, too, are human and need emotionally supportive and encouraging managers. Otherwise, companies will have a hard time winning loyalty from these priceless talents.” —How Automation Will Rescue Middle Management
What would an organization look like with looser hierarchies and stronger networks? A lot more human, retrieving some of the intimacy and cooperation of tribal groups. We already have other ways of organizing work. Orchestras are not teams, and neither are jazz ensembles. There may be teamwork on a theatre production but the cast is not a team. It is more like a community of practice, with strong and weak social ties.
Hierarchical teams are what we get when we use the blunt stick of economic consequences with financial quid pro quo as the prime motivator. In a creative economy, the unity of hierarchical teams is counter-productive, as it shuts off opportunities for serendipity and innovation. In a complex and networked economy workers need more autonomy and managers should have less control.
Hierarchical power, which has informed most of our organizational design for the past century is actually debilitating. Not only does power corrupt, but it causes brain damage.
“Power, the research says, primes our brain to screen out peripheral information. In most situations, this provides a helpful efficiency boost. In social ones, it has the unfortunate side effect of making us more obtuse. Even that is not necessarily bad for the prospects of the powerful, or the groups they lead. As Susan Fiske, a Princeton psychology professor, has persuasively argued, power lessens the need for a nuanced read of people, since it gives us command of resources we once had to cajole from others. But of course, in a modern organization, the maintenance of that command relies on some level of organizational support. And the sheer number of examples of executive hubris that bristle from the headlines suggests that many leaders cross the line into counterproductive folly.” —The Atlantic, 2017-09
We should not inflict such power on individuals and instead learn how to distribute it to help the whole network make better decisions. Hierarchies can be replaced with trust. “In the industrial era, what created scale was more resources. In the social era, what creates scale is trust”, says Nilofer Merchant. We can learn from Nordic leadership models and create organizations that take advantage of a networked world.
“American managers are assertive, aggressive, goal and action oriented, confident, vigorous, optimistic, and ready for change. They are capable of teamwork and corporate spirit, but they value individual freedom and their first interest is furthering their own career.”
“Swedish management is decentralized and democratic. The rationale is that better informed employees are more motivated and perform better. The drawback is that decisions can be delayed.”
“Finnish leaders exercise control from a position just outside and above the ring of middle managers, who are allowed to make day-today decisions. Finnish top executives have the reputation of being decisive at crunch time and do not hesitate to stand shoulder to shoulder with staff and help out in crises.”
“In democratic Norway, the boss is very much in the center of things, and staff enjoy access to him or her most of the time. Middle managers’ opinions are heard and acted upon in egalitarian fashion, but top executives rarely abandon responsibility and accountability.”
Paul Zak discovered eight key factors, or principles, in promoting trust in the workplace — recognition, challenges, decision-making, work selection, openness, relationships, opportunity, and vulnerability. In The Neuroscience of Trust he described the research over several years that yielded these insights and gives examples of companies that implement these principles. The return on investment is more energy and greater productivity.
“Ultimately, you cultivate trust by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and getting out of their way.
It’s not about being easy on your employees or expecting less from them. High-trust companies hold people accountable but without micromanaging them. They treat people like responsible adults.”
We can create organizations for the network era based on these simple principles.
- Willing Cooperation: through interdependent workers as shared investors, making informed choices within a network architecture.
- Self-selected Tools: chosen by self-directed workers who actively participate in the workings of the entire organization.
- Knowledge sharing: that helps to share the cognitive load and scale learning throughout the organization.
- Transparent work: done through the creative interaction of workers sharing responsibility for the work.
The technologies that should concern us most are management technologies. Often these are invisible. “Technology is the application of organized and scientific knowledge to solve practical problems,” says Harold Stolovitch. Management technology defines what problems we are allowed to look at, and which can be ignored. The issue is not re-skilling, digital transformation, or a focus on new work competencies. The issue at hand is how our institutional and corporate policies, as well as economic models treat people. Is each individual a unique, complex being with multiple facets, or just a self-driving unit that contains bits of work to be extracted? If it is the former, then management must be a service and not a position in the hierarchy.