FINAL ROAR for dinosaur bosses?
Is there any room left in the workplace for the tyrant executive? By Ron Clark
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 PCEvaluate.com, 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