New technology is intended to improve the way we live. One of the most obvious applications is in the medical field, where novel approaches to data analytics are helping researchers to gain a more granular understanding of the human body and address the root causes of serious disease.
In the field of robotics, voice-activated exoskeletons are helping patients with spinal injuries to walk again.
While new technology is adding value to people, it is only being used to a fraction of its potential in the workplace. While companies have been saying for years that people are their most valuable asset, they are not using advances in analytics, automation and the cloud to change the way they manage employees or encourage them to think more creatively.
Instead, they simply apply these to outdated business models, or outdated processes to run and secure their valuable business models, that value productivity over creating an environment where innovation can grow, develop, and prosper.
While it has been established that productivity and creative thinking are borne from engagement and excitement, many managers continue to view technology as a means to streamline at the expense of constructive creativity.
That is not to say faster processes and automation are not important – in fact they allow employees to focus on more complex and strategic tasks – but the best managers understand that employees are at their best when they have room to breathe intellectually, not when lumped together under the banner of some archaic managerial theory.
The counter-argument is that businesses need to make money and serve their stakeholders, but one does not exclude the other. In fact, a more fulfilled and engaged workforce is more likely to drive the bottom line.
Modern management has moved beyond theory
Inspiration can strike an employee at any time. It can happen in the shower, while they are going for a run, or as the Simpsons proved, even when admiring a piece of crumpled paper. Traditional management theories were designed for the desk-bound nine-to-five worker, not the free-thinking flexible worker of today. In short, they are no longer fit for purpose.
Managerial theories tend to be more buzzword than buzz-worthy. They are therefore difficult to break down into concrete actions that can be applied towards measurable results. This is why the world is full of management “gurus” who will argue the relative merits of “heroic leadership” and “post-heroic leadership”, which actually espouse the same tactics upon closer inspection.
The latest HR buzzword is the “liquid workforce”
This is the practice of recruiting people who prefer to work collaboratively as part of a team, are open to new concepts and training, and continuously strive to develop new skills.
In reality, this concept is not new. These are simply the characteristics that all effective workers have displayed through the ages.
What has changed is that companies today need a more fluid skillset to work in a more agile away.
For this to happen, managers and HR leaders must ensure that employees can access the right information and tools to build and broaden their skillset on demand. If they continue to take “a black box” approach to management, their teams will be restricted by a narrow vision of success that is the very antithesis of agility. Even when inspiration does strike, such rigid controls create too many barriers for workers to overcome if they want to bring their idea to life.
Productivity is by all means crucial, and it will be a challenge to balance a more explorative and free-thinking culture with the pressure to speed up processes and keep costs down. However, when employees are empowered to think innovatively and collaborate in a more fluid way, the outcomes tend to serve both these aspirations.
The modern workplace is about enablement above all else. It is about encouraging people to share ideas and tap into their creativity, and it will not be lofty corporate lingo that helps them achieve this.
It will instead be a more flexible management approach that values smarter working over catchy banners. If they keep this in mind, HR leaders and management teams will be in the best position to help employees perform at the highest level.