The Top 5 Challenges Facing The Modern Manager
Analyzing The Challenges Faced by Managers in Today’s Organization
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been part of a significant hiring binge by my firm as a result of some corporate restructuring activities. Having interviewed candidate after candidate, I’ve found the process of filling 20 new positions to be extremely fast-paced, if not frantic, considering the importance of the decisions being made. How do you properly assess the candidates’ skills when you meet with several in a single day? Trying to keep the names and resumes straight is no simple task when you’ve sat through multiple interviews over the course of a week and asked the same questions in each. How well will the candidate fit with the existing team? Do they really want to work here, or do they just need a job?
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From negotiating salaries to selecting people who will fit the business well enough to stay a while, I came to the realization that hiring the right people is just one of the many difficulties today’s managers face. What is modern management? As I sat back and thought about it some more, I came up with five key management challenges:
1. Maximizing Scarce Resources
It was in the economics class in my MBA program where I learned to associate the word ‘scarce’ with the word ‘resources.’ In virtually every business case I read, my analysis came down to that of a company trying to balance its limited resources with its pursuit of lofty goals. In your own experience, you’ve probably witnessed it as I have: the perpetual fight to get one more employee (outside of hiring sprees, of course) or seeking extra funds for a piece of equipment. In most cases, these needs frequently clash with the need to be profitable, competitive, and cautious.
Modern businesses are met with heavy competition every day. It could be the small coffee shop trying to keep up with a worldwide chain across the street, or a multibillion euro corporation in Germany competing against a competitor in Japan. In any case, management and leadership teams are routinely sandwiched between the lack of sufficient resources to do what they think might be best, and the task of generating fantastic results. A colleague of mine once referred to this as the ‘ultimate management paradox.’
If you’re really struggling with this balancing act, the best advice I can offer you in terms of resource management is to use data to drive your actions. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer when it comes to investing in another employee or a piece of equipment which has a clear and undisputable positive payback. Collect your data and present your cas
2. Remaining Relevant to Your Team and Business
Amid splashy changes in technology, managers who have been in leadership roles for say, 20 years or more, might find it difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the work place. For a manager who started his or her managerial career prior to the mid-1990s, for example, think about the changes that have transpired since those days: the proliferation of basic cell phones, followed by introduction of text messages. Then came the smart phone and now we have tablets. It’s the entire office in your pocket. Or think about how paper filing systems have been replaced in entirety by mass electronic archiving of information in web-based applications. Paperless systems are just one of many expectations of a modern business. I haven’t been managing for quite that long, but sometimes feel a little antiquated myself. I have an occasional preference for actual paper files that I can pull out of my desk to escape a screen for a little while. Admittedly, I am not a technophile and thus, don’t enjoy when the systems I can use efficiently are replaced by new packages with bugs that disrupt productivity.
But the point is that technology is accelerating the pace of change in the workplace, and as entry level employees are being added to the workforce every day, experienced managers need to keep their own skills fresh in order to lead their teams effectively. Examples of such needs include keeping computer and software knowledge up to date, as well as maintaining the ability to communicate to a generation of people who don’t remember what life was like before the internet. And despite my own preferences, from a corporate perspective, managers also need to ensure they are providing modern systems and infrastructure that reduce cost in order to keep up with competitors who are making similar moves.
3. The Art of Employee Retention
Modern business is not just about competition for customers, but also competitions for employees. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I have been one of the primary managers involved with a significant hiring spree for my firm. And as I examine resumes, I notice that some have held three positions at three different companies for about 12 to 18 months each. They have moved around, and tried different things, and some have already experienced a layoff. The salaries they have been requesting are significant. With just 5 years of experience, no advanced degree and few significant accomplishments, some are seeking compensation in the neighborhood of what my 15-year employees with advanced degrees and a long list of accomplishments are earning. How do you compete with this?
It’s not all about money, of course, but today’s workforce is after opportunity, advancement and overall satisfaction. But they also want stability, excitement and a place where the can flourish. With higher and higher pay being offered down the street, and something more interesting popping up in the next city, holding on to employees – particularly the good ones – is a difficulty shared by all managers today. For these reasons, these same managers must find more inventive ways of keeping employees happy and engaged, while balancing the tight controls of modern corporations.
For what it’s worth, I have found that offering various perks and incentives, such as team breakfasts and training opportunities can help go a long way to keeping people happy and motivated. But employee engagement and retention certainly does take more than a cup of coffee. Employee retention requires managers take an active interest in their employees’ careers as well as continually make efforts to motivate employees to stay.
4. The Gift of Responsibility Without Authority
Within the modern, post-financial crisis corporation, decisions making is frequently held in the upper ranks of an organization. Even though you might be a manager, a second level manager, a director or even a vice president, very few decisions are fully bestowed upon you. There is often a ‘let me get approval’ loop built into the mix. Now, this is not an entirely new, or unreasonable concept that’s emerged in recent years, but it is noteworthy because the pace at which business continues to accelerate is making it difficult for managers to react and move quickly. Equally, today’s managers often have tremendous responsibility and expectations levied upon them, in terms of productivity, innovation and financial performance. But the perpetual need for approvals and buy-in from the top to ensure things are in line with expectations often places these managers in a tough spot – they have numerous responsibilities, but often lack the authority to just ‘go and do.’
The result: frequent changes in direction, delays and occasional frustration by seasoned managers who still need to wait for a go-ahead. One of the few reliable ways you can combat this trend is simply to use up-front planning and communication to senior managers as a vehicle for expediting the whole process. Let them know what you plan to do then follow through. Rather than ask when an urgent decision is needed, get buy-in or alignment early, and then follow up once the activity is complete.
5. Overabundance of Competing Metrics
As with the competition for scarce resources, it seems you cannot be considered a modern business these days unless you have enough metrics to measure every single aspect of your business. My firm, for instance, recently began tracking waste – solid vs. recycled, natural vs. synthetic, as well as the cost recovery we get from selling it to a recycling outfit. Certainly, it’s with good intention and emphasizes a commitment to minimizing environmental impact. But mesh this with the fact that there are also metrics for the speed with which goods are produced as well how much we spend on regular versus premium shipping. These are not to be outdone by values that track the amount of employees who completed the anonymous employee survey and the number of new patents we produced.
Eventually, as with many businesses today, the emphasis on understanding every aspect of an operation can easily result in a swirling world of numbers, percentages and red-yellow-green charts. The reasons this is a concern, of course, is at some point, how I am measured may not be comparable to how you are measured. Thus, what might motivate one part of an organization, has no bearing on the decisions of another, resulting in internal conflict. The ultimate impact of this is competition for those same scarce resources. Again, some up-front planning and alignment of what’s really important, and not just interesting, can go a long way in preventing such friction.
Unfortunately, today’s management and leadership professionals are tasked with balancing all of the priorities to generate overall success. There are certainly other challenges that managers face, but these are easily some of the most daunting. What other challenges have you faced?
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