Managing in the digital age

21 August 2015 -


In an age of increasing digitalisation and automation where do managers fit into the workforce, and how will management techniques have to adapt to the new working landscape? Guest blogger Nick Hixson looks for the answer

Nick Hixson

So are we managing, or just coping, in the fast-emerging digital age?

Bloggers have brought visions of dystopic societies where we are ruled by machines; worries concerning the disenfranchisement of vast swathes of the workforce when machines take away jobs; and questions regarding how developing countries may suffer most from the loss of low skilled jobs to autonomous contraptions.

These are reasonable concerns, and mirror the worries that many had during the rise of the Industrial Age, with Victorian machines changing the face of the countryside; marginalising as much as they liberated.

Others, starting with Charles Handy, wonder at how our humanness can be protected from the rise of the machine and warn that, while there are undoubted benefits of an increasingly digital working environment, there are few ‘unmixed blessings’ in the world.

This concept has been developed with interesting ideas on how to manage a workforce that can work remotely, igniting the idea that, at a fundamental level, all employees are volunteers – they are just volunteering to work for you at the moment.

Adding to Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote, there are unknown knowns, the chief of which is our inability to get the best out of the people we work with. We know this, and we often try to manage it with more or better systems, be they digital or not. Yet we also know that increasingly customers are demanding more from us – a deeper understanding of their needs and wants, and drivers of their behaviour.

This can be aided by big data, but not defined by it. The data still needs strategic assessment because people still have a need to deal with people – people well informed by big data perhaps, but clearly people who have the time and empathy to really listen, and are empowered to act.

To achieve this, we need to engage the people within organisations at all levels, not just at the top. Specifically, line managers and supervisors need to fully understand how and why our colleagues work with us – which is again the volunteer principle.

To do this, we need to understand both their personal and work objectives and align these where possible. If this cannot be achieved, we need to have a grown up conversation so that both parties get enough of what they want and need. If a compromise cannot be reached, this still allows both parties to find some form of closure.

Aligning the business then becomes easier, as does growth, with everyone understanding and working together for a common goal of customer satisfaction.

Chartered accountant Nick Hixson FCMI, who leads Hixsons, specialising in strategic growth, leadership and management, is one of only three Peter Drucker Society Europe associates in the UK, and is UK business partner for the Agility Insights Diagnostic Mentoring solution.

The Global Drucker Forum is a conference that honours the work of the great Peter Drucker, and is held in Vienna in early November. The theme this year is Claiming Our Humanity – Managing in the Digital Age. It spawns a vibrant and varied blog series that can be found here.

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