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The changes brought about by technology, social and mobile media, and massive data are frequent topics of discussion, throughout this book and in general. Another of these shifts is taking place in managerial ranks, where various top and middle managers are discovering that their roles must necessarily change if they want to continue running their businesses effectively and profitably.

lo-res_407177686-sIn particular, the data-driven analytics that now inform virtually every firm create a flatter organizational hierarchy. Managers’ roles even have become obsolete in some cases, such as when an algorithm exists to make operational decisions that previously were the responsibility of a sales manager. Broadly, even firms that are not high-tech in their makeup are becoming tech firms, in some sense.

For example, at Equifax, the credit rating firm, many of the senior leaders have information technology backgrounds, rather than conventional operations or marketing experience. Managers lead small teams of employees who have cross-departmental responsibilities for developing and selling the firm’s services. Similarly, the insurance provider Liberty Mutual relies on teams that take combined responsibility for sales, information technology, and business tasks. These teams in turn rely heavily on digital collaboration tools, so a conventional sales manager assigned to oversee them would have little to do. Instead, managers in these settings tend to function like coaches or mentors, guiding the teams’ existing efforts to complete their diverse, multifunctional job tasks.

Despite some resistance to such radical changes, especially among top executives who might seek to hold tightly to their authority and positions of power, the trends seem clearly to be moving to less hierarchy, fewer managers, more shared authority, and increasing reliance on technological tools. For prospective managers, they also suggest some clear prerequisites: gain some familiarity with agile management, expand information technology and big data skills, and be ready to be flexible when it comes to what the job ultimately will involve.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do data analytics change the way sales forces perform their tasks?
  2. How do data analytics alter the way managers should manage their sales forces?

Source: Angus Loten and John Simons, “Leadership Evolves Among Tech Changes,” The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2017.

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