Management in a digital world

August 2014

I call it the curse of Blackberry. That moment when you know nothing you say will be understood by your interlocutor because they use a Blackberry. And because they do, they cannot see beyond a phone being something you email with or talk in to. Mention Twitter and they think twat, remote working and they think skiver and The Cloud and they fulminate about security.

Last week Ofcom stated in their 2014 Communications Market report that 57% of UK people have used their smartphones to access the internet. Conversely in a recent property and tech report by Qube Software, 57% of respondents had never done so. In 2014!. In property the Blackberry curse is rife.

Which explains why management has not, by and large, moved into the digital world. There are myths from the analogue age that are proving hard to disperse. For example:

1) Face to face meetings are preferable to virtual ones. This despite copious studies demonstrating the ineffectiveness of meetings and their ability to fill however much time is allocated to them. In a digital world one uses face to face for targeted reasons, most often for collaborative issue sharing or problem solving exchanges. Once over, everyone can repair back to wherever they can get on and actually work best. During this time meetings often involve asynchronous messaging (so as not to disturb the work) and cloud based comments, documents and task sharing.

2) You don’t know if someone is working if they aren’t in the office. This is the ne plus ultra of analogue management. It screams that the company in question has no concept of managing by outcomes, only activity, and no systems in place to know what everyone is up to. Digital management encourages open and transparent sharing of data because without that the benefits of everything being connected to everything else do not accrue. One of the beauties of Cloud computing is that all parties can stay in contact with everyone else and have access to everything they need, wherever they are. And with that you do not need to see someone to know what they are doing.

3) You have to be in the office as that is where the buzz is. And buzz = inspiration. Ho hum, up to a point. But Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems had it right when he said ‘Whoever you are, the smartest people don’t work for you’. In the digital world the smartest people don’t need to work for you for you to work with them. It’s no longer about your work network, or the people you’ve met. Digital management is about plugging you and your team into the wider network. Multiple channels of connectivity and data dissemination mean we communicate and collaborate with multiple parties, in multiple locations, all the time. As a result we have access to a wider pool of knowledge, greater access to skills and most likely a more nuanced, multi-faceted view of the world. Yes your office is important and serendipitous encounters will and do occur there. But all day, every day? No.

Management in a digital world is fundamentally different to the way things were when the Blackberry did rule the roost. The three myths above are just symbols of a time when data flowed slowly, our networks were limited and our lives neatly split between work and non work. The economy may be coming back but those days aren’t. And that is great news. In a digital network there is no greasy pole to climb. Everyone can add value and become a more important node. And the biggest nodes lead. As they should in a true meritocracy.

Management in a digital world is paradoxically about giving away freedom to gain more control. The trade is providing employees with the tools to be the best they can be, on their terms, whilst having far better insight into what it is they are actually doing.

Antony

This article first appeared in Estates Gazette August 23rd 2014