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BLOG: Information technology and the age old art of management

Gyan Nagpal | Nov. 19, 2012
The game has changed, and so must the rules.

'Technology Ubiquitousness' is one of three megatrends I chose to focus on when writing the opening chapters of my soon to be released book. Along with the other two megatrends (Tiger Economies and Talent Commoditisation), the virtually unavoidable invasion of information technology in every aspect of work is changing not just the rules of an age old game, but evolving the very game itself.

To some this may seem like old news, or a ten-year-old trend at best. True. At a superficial level, the use of information technology in management hasn't exactly crept up on us. We have willingly climbed and embraced every incremental step in what has been to many of us, a very personal journey.

Technology has promised to make management easier, and for years it has done exactly that. Yet, for all the efficiency and incremental access that computing or connectivity has afforded us, in recent years we have crossed what I believe is a tipping point.  A point where technology is changing the fundamental art of management. One big symptom of this trend is how mobile technology has started changing the very nature of decision making. Let's rewind a bit, to capture this shift.

A generation ago, during the glory days of management hierarchies, the most accepted decision making approach was "top down" . In other words, the leader decided what needed to be done.  This was a singular age, and debate wasn't common. Since then though, there has been a sea change, with leaders consciously swinging towards a greater consensus driven management style.

As a result, over the next 25 years or so, we saw the craft of decision making gradually democratised into a process which put quality debate at the very heart of management choice. Accordingly, the manager's role evolved too - from a 'director' into a 'moderator'.  Good managers became good consensus builders, and this has proven providential, particularly with the advent of the large global corporations with their omnipotent matrixes and silos.

Linear conversation

But then something happened. Over the last 48 months, the vast proliferation of push-mail in the form of blackberries, iphones and other smart devices have started to replace many a rich and nuanced verbal dialogue with a much more linear online conversation. As everyone is now effectively online 24x7, we often find that questions that would have found themselves on meeting agendas are now on e-mail, and with e-mail it's often the first response that drives a conclusion.

This is because the written word isn't as efficient as the spoken one at sustaining debate. If you now bring in the realities of bosses reading e-mails on planes, trains and automobiles; decisions are being made more instantaneously, and in some critical cases with shallower backgrounds and much less context.

 

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