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The transitioning role of a manager between two paradigms

For centuries, it has been an accepted practice for human beings to leave their abode and venture out to earn a living, irrespective of the profession they pursued. That principle continued unopposed till the crisis of COVID-19 pandemic struck in February. Our worlds overturned in a matter of few weeks.

The BPM industry, in particular, relied heavily on multiple infrastructure-driven checks and balances such as data security, privacy, protection and adherence to processes. The service line needed four-eye checks, validations, quality control, barging into calls and constant focus on minimising and mitigating risks. After all, meeting contract obligations and timelines is key to a BPM setup. There was no other way of conducting business other than from a secure environment with security guards and video cameras et al, to prevent against data leaks.

With the ensuing lockdown, the on-premise infrastructure was out of bounds. Employees had to be enabled to work from home, without any security guard or video cameras keeping a tab on their movement. All the industry players had to work out a contingency plan overnight to accommodate for remote working without compromising the security aspect.

The lockdown has eliminated the quintessential face-to-face interactions and office routines are no longer what it used to be. The style of leadership must evolve with it.

Making Lemonade

When life throws lemons at you, make lemonade.

The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic presents to us one such opportunity.

The traditional hierarchy mandated a span of control for the coal face and had layers above it. As our business and operating models change and as the focus shifts from transactions to delivering outcomes, the role of the manager has also evolved. The need of the hour in this New Normal is a knowledge-based hierarchy.

While the objectives of a leader till now stood on four key pillars -

  • Productivity
  • Quality of transactions
  • Compliance
  • People Management

To deliver business outcomes in the new world, a manager will now also need to –

  • Focus on individual requirements
  • Motivating and inspire
  • Facilitate innovation

Managers will have to ensure that dialogue within a team is encouraged to bring all stakeholders to the thinking table. For this to happen, managers will have to give up absolute control and authority. In fact, organizations should be able to redefine the concepts of power and authority. The overall purpose should not be to manage costs as most business entities plan to do, but rather, change how people work together around core tasks without changing the organizational architecture.

Facilitating innovation will ensure out of the box ideas on dealing with a unique situation. It will give rise to new approaches that can be tried and tested. In turn, the managers will have to be open about accepting new ideas, or even failures. Because, let’s face it, the manager doesn’t know any better than the employee on how to tackle an uncertain situation like we are presented with today.

The evolving role of a manager is already showing some positive results:

  • People have adapted exceedingly well and are more efficient once they are technology enabled to work from home.
  • Even when left alone with their own devices, people are taking complete ownership towards their own deliverables and are embracing accountability without follow ups.
  • People related issues are almost nil.
  • Office gossip and politics is almost non-existent.
  • Appraisals can be tangible, data-based, and not behaviour- or relationship-based.
  • Maturity and resourcefulness, along with proactive behaviour, is being displayed by employees.

As an employee aptly summed up, “the freedom to do or not to do, is actually a motivation.”

It’s not a beginning

This change hasn’t come overnight. That probably is the reason why the transition has been a smooth one.

We ventured onto the digital bandwagon several years ago that has supported distributed workforce. With the advent of platform-based models and now RPA, managers have had to adapt and understand the underlying technologies that facilitate their business processes and delivery of outcomes to clients.

As we increasingly started seeing digitisation take effect across functions, the need for general management began to diminish. Every manager had to be a digital guru or subject matter expert as business delivery was becoming more outcome focused.

When majority of the entry level transactions were being automated or digitised, when data entry was disappearing, why would you require an onerous supervisory presence, walking around the floor, peering into screens and checking progress?

But, does that mean we do away with an office set up altogether? Absolutely not. But we can certainly work in a more independent and enabled environment.

A female employee, with a 2.5-year-old baby, whose partner works for the government and is away from home, works when her baby goes to sleep. But her output and dedication is at par or even higher than an average employee.

Just imagine how we would mutually benefit if employees with such needs are allowed to work from home once in a while. The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has several negatives for the society at large, but for us as a business, there is a silver lining. It has opened up a vista of possibilities and opportunities. We were already on our path to complete digitisation and this event may actually expedite the transition.

Would this then attract a differently skilled work force, one that is not able to make the long and tiring to-and-fro commute? Will night shifts become easier and less stressful? Will harassment and grievances reduce? These are potentially exciting opportunities to explore.