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Employees Lead, Managers Facilitate

​Rapid changes are sweeping through the U.S. workplace to transform management styles, according to a new Gallup report The End of the Traditional Manager.

Today's workplace is characterized by more flexible workspaces and work times, more remote workers, and more cross-functional teams. Moreover, workplaces are increasingly project-based, and employees are attracted to interesting projects that produce meaningful results. 

In this project-based work environment, it helps to be as agile as possible. Teams should be able to make more decisions without constantly soliciting approval from above, which means employees can benefit by acting more like leaders and keeping the big picture in mind. 

Thus, more organizations are looking for employees who can make independent decisions, problem solve with diverse teams, and self-manage their own time, projects, workload, and relationships, according to the Gallup experts.

This trend resonates with Isaac Kohen, a veteran manager in the security space. Kohen is founder and chief technology officer of Teramind, which specializes in insider threat detection, data loss prevention solutions, and employee monitoring.

"I can definitely attest to the necessity of hiring colleagues who are capable of working individually in their areas of strength as efficiently as possible," he says.

But this workplace trend changes what workers look for from their manager. "A manager who is always visible, watching every minute, and stopping by to ask if you got the memo is becoming obsolete," the authors write.

Kohen agrees, and says that current-day managers have a key role in the new project-based workplace—they must maintain a culture in which employees can thrive in this environment. They can do this by allowing people to try new things, fail, learn, and try again. This type of manager is "giving employees the ability to experiment and make mistakes, knowing they will not be punished for it as long as they are doing it in the interest of bettering the work," he says.

Managers should also strive to ensure that employees understand how their individual work connects to the organization's overall mission, and how they are still part of a team even when working on their own assignment.  

"From an organizational standpoint, it's equally important to build a sense of belonging and strong culture in a workplace, with the goal of building a group of colleagues who share a common goal and enjoy the workplace and the work environment," Kohen explains. 

Moreover, Kohen says managers should always strive to strengthen the connection between an employee's work and the organization's mission. 

"In all of our work as security solution providers, we try to tie it back, on a continuous basis, to what our solutions help companies do: stay more secure, save their business from online dangers, and ensure their customers' data is safe and secure—that overall their brand as a business will be trusted," he explains.

And no matter how much workplaces are changing, managers still have the most powerful tool at their disposal: meaningful conversations with employees.

To illustrate, take the sophisticated levels communication between a sports coach and his or her players. Coaches develop a deep understanding of their players through hours of dialogue and observation. The coach learns what to say to motivate each player differently and learn who needs more feedback and who needs less.

"Over time, great coaches develop the trust and openness needed to have tough conversations under pressure," the Gallup authors wrote.

Many managers, however, have not reached this level yet in their communication. So, organizations can help by providing managers training on how to initiate and lead strengths-based, performance-focused conversations regularly with employees, according to the Gallup experts.

If facilitating, coaching, and culture-building are popular in current-day management, what might management's future look like?

One possibility, according to the Gallup experts, is that instead of having one manager they report to, employees will interact with a team of specialized managers. One might be an IT expert, one a subject matter expert, and one a career coach. These managers will address different issues, but also consult with one another to make sure that they understand each employee holistically.

The chance to learn from a "management dream team" dedicated to improving performance and sustaining long-term career development could be attractive to some employees. Critics, however, say it could be unwieldy when it comes to day-to-day realities like performance reviews and promotions.

"Regardless of what the future holds, it's worth considering unconventional ideas when it comes to management," the authors wrote. "Sometimes it is easy to miss how quickly business as we know it is changing."