Monday, April 13, 2009

The need for new roles for senior managers.

Ten years ago, over 50% of American business wasn’t subject to competition. Today, that number is closer to 25%. Andy Grove, the former chairman of Intel, says that learning to adjust to changes in today’s business environment is like driving behind another car in a fog. It’s easy going as long as you have the other car’s tail lights to guide you. But when the leading car turns off the road, you’re suddenly stuck without the confidence that comes from finding your own way. The moral? Followers have little future.

Creating competitive futures demands that senior managers spend more time deciphering the increasingly complex forces that influence and shape their business. To find the time to develop sustainable success strategies, they have to hand over some of their traditional responsibilities to the middle-level managers who report to them. And to accept these new responsibilities, these middle managers have to hand off some of their traditional assignments to the employees who report to them.

And so it goes, all the way down the hierarchy. The traditional distinction between managers and non-managers becomes increasingly blurred as employees at all levels take more responsibility for managing the business. To be successful, senior managers have to embrace alternative forms of control, trading in certainty for speed by giving others the guidelines and freedom to act as they see fit. Nimbleness is the only sure way to maintain control in a fast changing environment.

Walter Wriston, the former chairman of Citicorp, says, “It takes entirely different skills to be a manager today than it took 15 years ago.” The quickest way to become an old dog is to stop learning new tricks. Yet, experience suggests that the tools many senior managers use to explore their world have grown dangerously out of date.

in the next few weeks, I'll identify some of the new skills needed and discuss how to design work for senior management teams. Then, I'll cover the pros and cons of teamwork in general, within and across organizational boundaries.

If there are related topics that are of special interest to you, please let me know so I can cover them in this blog. I always welcome your comments and feedback so don't be shy. Let's make this more of a conversation. I can be reached at

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