What is work and what will management look like in the future? In the past, work was about surviving. Nowadays, work is more than that for most people. It is also about satisfaction and creating the life we want to lead. Imagining a future where digitization enables us to work less while still achieving the same goals and performing the same tasks. Will there be enough jobs for us all or do we have to change our mindset about work and working time? If it´s not possible for all people to work, how can people support themselves and find satisfaction nevertheless? The future invites us to think in new ways about what work is. This includes a new concept of management. In this article, we introduce ideas about how new communication, trust management and power skills create a new future-proof management philosophy.
During the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 we discovered new ways of working such as digital meetings and telework, and we experienced that life went on regardless. In the long run, this will without a doubt change our approach to working and leadership in the future.
Government-controlled business has shifted its focus from a leadership style based on New Public Management to a leadership style based on trust. At least the stories about leadership in government-controlled business have changed. When politicians set targets and officials have to report and follow up on the achievement of these targets, it may be difficult to define trust and control.
Trust and control or follow-up are fundamental aspects of management. As a leader, you need to reinforce trust, monitor important parameters and create narratives about how they connect. Trust and control are equally important aspects of management and cannot stand alone. The position taken in terms of trust and the position taken in terms of control depended on the situation. Management means striking a balance between these positions in the decision-making process.
How is it possible to work with trust and control at the same time?
You can achieve this by creating clarity in terms of goals, commitments, expectations and results. If you work together and have the same idea about what to do, trust between people will increase. You can also create meaning by repeatedly asking the question of why we are doing this. What are the organization’s targets or target groups? Another approach you can adopt is to talk about capacity. We have noticed in organizations that good nurses, social workers or teachers frequently become leaders. Good leadership is not always connected to a good performance in the profession. Good leadership is about other skills. That is why you need to discuss the capacities needed for leadership. Capacity revolves around the skills to handle the different aspects and impacts of leadership. You need capacity to reconcile trust and follow-up or control in the practice of leadership.
Another approach is to work with organizational conditions such as the structure and how we are organized, the number of employees under the leader’s supervision, the distance or proximity between the business units and the kind of support a leader needs from the HR department. With new insights into how we create efficiency in the organization, we have to create agile and more effective units to secure the organization’s future.
A leader’s inquisitiveness helps them become more aware of the organizational conditions. By adopting an appreciative approach, a leader can investigate and discover aggravating patterns. The leader is a guide who leads their staff through a complex structure, and together they explore and discover new solutions.
A trustful and appreciative approach in the management role helps leaders to increase their problem-solving ability and create a trustful workplace.
The following are a few examples of skills necessary in the management of the future.
How to put management stories into practice
When we ask the question “what makes a good leader?”, we have discovered that leaders agree with each other on how to act as a good leader. In practice, we have noticed the difference between what managers say and what they actually do. This highlights the importance of putting your stories about good leadership into practice. Our idea is that we shape reality by telling stories. If we tell negative stories about people or situations, people who hear these stories start to internalize negative expectations. If we tell positive stories about our leadership we have to implement these positive stories. Future-proof management demands transparence in what is told and what is practiced. As a dialogue architect, a manager can facilitate meetings where positive stories will shape both the present and the future in a trustful work environment.
How to adopt an appreciative inquiry position
Adopting an appreciative position as a leader means that you are curious about what’s happening in the organization and ask questions to understand and analyze the situation. You want to listen to the stories from professionals about how they look at different situations. The more complex a situation is, the more necessary it is to maintain an inquisitive mindset to discover patters and chains of cause and effect. It is best to solve complex problems together with the professionals involved. Although it is up to the leader to make a decision, trust is shown by listening to the expertise of their team members and control is exercised by making a decisions after a dialogue with the professionals.
A model for adopting an appreciative inquiry position
One successful way of creating a more inquisitive working environment is to implement different dialogue methods. You can start by observing and talking about the communication culture. How do we talk to each other? How do we show interest in each other’s competence? Do we involve everybody in the conversation? How do we want to talk to each other?
One way to create a feeling of appreciation in the organization is to point out the importance of celebrating success in the organization. All too often, we just note that we have succeeded without celebrating achievements and creating stories about what we achieved. If we are curious about how we succeeded and what we learned, those stories will help us to identify what we did well so we can do it again. Without success stories, this knowledge slips away.
The appreciative perspective is the key to success for the leaders of the future. Whitney & Cooperrider (2011) have created a model of appreciative inquiry: the 4 D model. The model is about creating participation by investigating and telling stories about dreams and goals, identifying patterns and creating solutions. The model highlights the importance of identifying and describing Dreams (what do we want to achieve?), Discovery (finding patterns, resources, possibilities, problems), Design (methods and action plan) and Delivery (implementing the action plan, following up and doing more of the things that work). The model can be used fully or partly depending on the context. (Cooperrider 2008)
This future-proof leadership needs to foster participation within the organization. Participation means assuming responsibility and having the ability to make an impact. The 4 D model is an easy and effective way of fostering participation. It does not matter what organization you work in, the people in the organization want to feel that they are important, that they can influence their work and the organization, and that their leader listens to them. By using this model as a leader, you can increase the level of participation and focus on goals in a structured way. As a manager, you create and facilitate the communication environment required for working with change management in the future workplace. This position as a leader creates meaning, engagement and efficiency and is very useful to empower employees.
The future demands another type of leadership. Trust and an appreciative approach help leaders find solutions to complex problems together with their employees in the organization. By being curious and asking questions, searching for functional working conditions and being aware of the power of stories in an organization, we will be able to secure the future of the organization. In this article, we invite the reader to be an architect for conversation with an appreciative inquiry attitude. We also put that in the context of the future working method where the importance of leadership is more important than ever to meet the challenges that organizations are faced with. This implies asking questions rather than having a set of fixed answers in the management role. The approach also implies being curious about what’s happening in the organization, listening to the professionals and searching for and analyzing deeper solutions. The 4D model is a useful method for training organizations in asking questions and practicing appreciative inquiry. By acting as a facilitator/guide and implementing effective methods, we prepare managers for the future by adopting new ways of solving complex problems and securing the future together.
Bergman, S & Blomqvist C (2020) Uppskattande ledarkonst. Språkets betydelse för ledarskapet utmaningar. Lund: Studentlitteratur
Cooperrider, D, Whitney D, Stavros JM (2008) Appreciative inquiry Handbook. For leaders of Change. Unknown publisher
Whitney, D & Cooperrider, D (2011) Appreciative inquiry – a positive revolution in change. Publisher: Readhowyouwant