FI­NAL ROAR for di­nosaur bosses?

Is there any room left in the work­place for the tyrant ex­ec­u­tive? By Ron Clark

The Herald Business - - Human Resources -

THERE’S some­thing to be said for tyranny. At least both tyrants and the tyran­nised know where t hey s t and. There are well un­der­stood rules in place and the in­evitable penal­ties which ac­crue make it un­likely that they’ll be bro­ken.

On the face of it, it would ap­pear to be a sys­tem ide­ally suited to busi­ness. Busi­ness peo­ple sel­dom miss the op­por­tu­nity to re­mind us that what they really, really crave is sta­bil­ity, cer­tainty and or­der. A well-or­dered tyranny in the work­place should be able to de­liver just that, in spades.

But, cu­ri­ously, con­trol­ling man­age­ment now ap­pears in­stead to be gasp­ing its last, el­bowed aside by a new way of think­ing – con­sen­sual, team-ori­ented, af­fir­ma­tive and ques­tion­ing of author­ity – which the­o­ret­i­cally should re­sult in in­de­ci­sive chaos but, against the odds, ap­pears to work.

Any­one who worked through the 1970s and ’80s will have a well­worn stock of anec­dotes about bosses whose in­can­des­cent wrath could spread a pall of Mor­doresque gloom over the of­fice; and of work­forces who quailed be­fore them.

The cult of the ma­cho man­ager is most nor­mally blamed, like most things, on the Thatcher years but, in fact, its roots go back to the em­pire-build­ing days of US cor­po­ra­tions in the 1950s and ’60s.

And it still sur­vives in par­o­died form in suc­cess­ful tele­vi­sion shows such as The Ap­pren­tice and Dragon’s Den – where no punches are pulled when hap­less com­peti­tors’ prod­ucts don’t come up to scratch – and fre­quent press re­ports about Sir Alex Fer­gu­son’s fa­bled “hairdryer” mo­ments at Old Traf­ford.

It would be tempt­ing to think that ever more be­wil­der­ing thick­ets of em­ploy­ment law could be the driv­ing force be­hind ame­lio­ra­tive in­ter­ac­tions be­tween em­ploy- ers and their charges. Most bosses th­ese days walk on eggshells, in con­tin­ual dan­ger of caus­ing un­wit­ting of­fence.

How­ever, the more likely cause is de­mo­graphic, driven by t he gen­er­a­tion born in the mid-eight­ies and on­wards who are now man­i­fest­ing them­selves a s Gen­er­a­tion Y and be­com­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ately in­flu­en­tial com­po­nent of the work­force.

There is no doubt that their take on work/life bal­ance is rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, many of whom de­fined them­selves by am­bi­tion, drive and the de­sire to fasttrack them­selves to the top of their or­gan­i­sa­tions.

In many cases, Gen­er­a­tion Y em­ploy­ees are im­bued with a sense of en­ti­tle­ment to mean­ing­ful work which re­wards them with recog­ni­tion and feed­back.

They have grown up with tech­nol­ogy which still has the ca­pac­ity to amaze most peo­ple over 30 and are com­fort­able with text, mail and so­cial me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tions which can seem re­mote and im­per­sonal to older work­ers who cling to face-to-face con­tact.

Stephen Sharp, di­rec­tor of Glas­gow-based per­son­al­ity pro­fil­ing com­pany PCE­val­u­, agrees t hat t he agg r es­sive ma­cho man­age­ment style has been in de­cline for a num­ber of rea­sons.

Among th­ese, he says, are the UK’s ever more rig­or­ous em­ploy­ment laws, changes in how com­pa­nies have to op­er­ate in pub­lic and

– as they are now able to un­der­stand more about the peo­ple who work for them – changes in the way com­pa­nies use their hu­man re­sources.

He says: “I would state straight off, though, that peo­ple, in terms of their per­son­al­i­ties and at­ti­tudes, haven’t changed. It’s the en­vi­ron­ment around them that al­ters and al­lows them to use, or not use, their par­tic­u­lar strengths at work.

“Gen­er­a­tion Y is no more or less am­bi­tious than in­di­vid­u­als in any other gen­er­a­tion but op­por­tu­ni­ties for them and ev­ery­one else have opened up hugely. The big­gest driver has been tech­nol­ogy, plain and sim­ple.

“For the past 20 years, ‘Gen­er­a­tion Y not’, along with the rest of us, have been ex­posed to so much in the way of in­for­ma­tion, cul­ture and op­por t unity t hat we’ve broad­ened our minds and raised our ex­pec­ta­tions of what is possi- ble both at work and at home.”

Sharp says that, for em­ploy­ers, the big­gest im­pact of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance, and par­tic­u­larly the so­cial me­dia boom, is that they have to be more ac­count­able to their em­ploy­ees, share­hold­ers and publics. Their in­nards are now truly vis­i­ble to the world, and they know it.

The ease of trans­fer­ring in­for­ma­tion out of com­pa­nies elec­tron­i­cally by email is an ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple, but more im­por­tantly Twit­ter, Face­book, Instagram and so on are lay­ing bare what’s hap­pen­ing in­side an or­gan­i­sa­tion.

He said: “I ntim­i­da­tion or ha­rass­ment can only op­er­ate in a vac­uum. To­day, em­ploy­ees have iPhones and they’re not afraid to use them. Em­ploy­ers aren’t daft. They are more than aware of this and the broad­en­ing of em­ployee ex­pec­ta­tions and knowl­edge – and this has made many of them re­con­sider their pro­cesses more care­fully.”

If ma­cho man­agers are fad­ing into the dis­tance, there are still is­sues with the con­cept of do­ing away with hi­er­ar­chies al­to­gether.

Chris Logue, of ex­ec­u­tive search spe­cial­ists Eden Scott, says: “There is def­i­nitely a case for strong lead­er­ship – peo­ple need clear di­rec­tion about what they are sup­posed to do. There can be a dan­ger that meet­ings turn into meet­ings about meet­ings.

“Teams need clear agen­das and out­puts which are mea­sur­able. It doesn’t have to be one per­son tak­ing all the de­ci­sions and telling ev­ery­one else what to do. The dif­fi­culty is, if no one makes a de­ci­sion, all that re­sults is de­lay. That leads to busi­nesses mov­ing slowly and in­ef­fec­tively.

“Es­sen­tially, lead­ers and man­agers should not start to think that they have all the an­swers – they should open up to their team, ask for opin­ions and then act upon them. There is a place for hi­er­ar­chy, but it is still pos­si­ble to have a con­sen­sual man­age­ment style within that struc­ture.

“Ob­vi­ously there’s a chang­ing cli­mate as a re­sult of em­ploy­ment leg­is­la­tion but, more im­por­tantly, or­gan­i­sa­tions re­alise that peo­ple work­ing to­gether for a com­mon pur­pose and in a con­sen­sual en­vi­ron­ment pro­vides bet­ter busi­ness re­sults at the end of the day.”

Gen­er­a­tion Y’s ex­po­sure to in­for­ma­tion has changed ex­pec­ta­tions

Stephen Sharp says the en­vi­ron­ment has changed, not the peo­ple

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