Is Management becoming Unnecessary?

Harold Jarche has a controversial slide cast this week titled “Subversive thoughts” which explores the relationship between the trends for supporting knowledge work, and the role of management as it is traditionally defined.

It reads almost like a revolutionary manifesto:

Knowledge workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your managers.

Can that really be?  Is it possible that knowledge workers no longer need the coordinating role of a manager, and are able to coordinate themselves sufficiently using web 2.0 and micro-blogging technology?

Creative workers don’t need managers, they need executive assistants.  It’s time to reverse the relationship between contributors and coordinators.

My first response is that managers are knowledge workers themselves.  Often their area of expertise is exactly on how the organization is structured, and how to coordinate the large number of people involved.  Good managers manage in a style unique to each employee — which requires a lot of creativity to do just that.

In complex networks, current management approaches are no longer adequate.

Here we start to get to the real point: the art of management is changing.  Old style practices with fixed hierarchies are no longer relevant.  Information technology allows us to escape the boundaries imposed by thinking of organizations as a machine.   We need to think of organizations as a living network, and the role that a manager plays is very different.  I liked this quote a lot:

Sense-making in the network era is connecting to people, not merely accessing information sources.

I feel that managers will be spending more time “sense-making” in the coming years, and much less time “executing to a plan”.  Then he nails it:

Process improvement is bad for innovation.  It makes you myopic.

Traditional planning and executing to the plan is getting in the way of fast moving organizations.  Innovation was never a concern in the past for middle managers, but now it is.  Are we really seeing a change?  The workforce is rapidly transforming to be more and more knowledge workers.  Management will have to change in response – this is clear.  But how will it change?  Good question.


I will be talking about some of these trends in a webinar Oct 24 at 11am Eastern time titled “Strengthen Organizational Agility with the Latest Advances in Case Management

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