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The digital working world and its effect on management

It has finally penetrated every last corner: with the mega trend of digitalization, we have begun to work in a whole new way. Businesses have to newly devise their whole set up and the work models that are connected to it. Today’s management teams are asking themselves how management in the new working world will look, which changes the technical means of communication will bring and how they can inspire their employees and colleagues.

The foundation for management

To speak of a radical change sounds disruptive, even if it’s not completely clear exactly what the results will look like. That is mainly because there won’t be one result. Each business will have to work out their own set-up and work models. There will even be new requirements of the management. For the management team of tomorrow, management will move to its focus to purpose.

Even today the available technology allows employees from almost anywhere in the world to work, make contact with each other and to obtain or share every desired sort of information. Many businesses use these opportunities already and thereby make their way into the Working World 4.0. Businesses are always better organized and more dynamic. Networked, global teams are difficult to lead with old management approaches. So the approaches that are based on strict hierarchies and control lose their importance. They are being replaced with approaches whose foundation is the sense of individual and common work.

Understanding the point of a business

The foundation for implementing such a management approach is a common understanding of the purpose of the business. The goal of profits is not what is meant here, but rather the benefit that results for the customers. It answers the question of why the business was even founded and why it continues to exist. If the purpose of the business’s existence is known, then employees can orientate their work towards it. At the same time it becomes clear what will happen if the purpose of the business is missing: the new models will completely change to the contrary and will lead to lots of loose ends, new and still unfulfilled control wishes and with it the loss of the employee’s trust.

Right there lies a bigger problem. The point of the business is often not explicitly worked out and named. It is often the case that the management and the employees have “a feeling” for what the sense of the business could be. That is because it is difficult for people to express facts in words when they are emotionally moved by them. Thus arises a diffused image of the sense of the business that differs from person to person. So this applies to many businesses, to work on the foundation one more time and therefore prepare and consolidate the next steps.

If employees recognize a point in the business that they can identify with, then it is easy for them to find a purpose to their work and to develop a team feeling. And exactly these two points on the individual concerns of individual employees and fostering the team feeling are the key to new management approaches.

Studies have shown that the use of new work processes and forms does not guarantee success – on the contrary. Management by purpose, on the other hand, had a key role. The businesses that are successful today are those that are inspired and lead by the purpose of the business and the individuals’ sense of purpose.

The point for individuals and for the group

To see the point in your own work is justified by the unique feelings of the individuals who want to see themselves as a part of the whole, to grasp their work as an important step in a large process. If a single contribution is conspicuous to the fulfilment of the purpose of the business, then the individual will be aware of their effectiveness and will recognize that the point of their work is geared towards the purpose of the business.

By orientating all activities toward a common goal, to fulfil the purpose of the business, the team feeling increases. Because it is not only important to people that their individuality is perceived and valued, but also that they are part of a community. Seeing employees who share their goals and values with their colleagues welds them together and makes them strong.

What does management mean in Working World 4.0?

Management in the new working world means, above everything, to inspire through individualization and through fostering a team feeling. Common goals and a desirable image of the future are at the center. This resembles a balancing act in which the management staff are not allowed to stumble over old patterns like excessive controls. It is more important in this form than it was before.

Digital Working World

Individualization and fostering a team feeling

In theory, it is easily done, in practice, there are many lurking cases. For example, a team feeling can be threatened by decentralization. Because even informal conversations in the break room are an important factor in the development of a team which is completely left out for virtual teams. Likewise, it is not so simple to reduce control or to give it up. The profits that result are not immediately visible or measureable. The losses, on the other hand, if it doesn’t work, are very real. The questions about how to go about decentralizing or shifting control have to be worked out individually within businesses.

The tasks of a management team in the new working world, then, is creating a management climate that enables a focus on a purpose. It has to lead with vision and inspiration. It has to build up a culture of trust and keep it lively, in that it is allowed to make mistakes and therein it is possible to work autonomously without much control. It has to enable the employees to focus on the purpose of the business in their work, to put them in a professional position to follow the goal individually. And it requires the self-competence of the employees who can then recognize which skills they need to focus their work on the purpose of the business and to develop these skills.

What you can do

The first step of leadership in Working World 4.0 is defining and communicating the “why” of the business. Proceed curiously, like a child who always gains a new question from an answer – “why?” Simon Sinek describes it in his book, Start With the Why, as a golden circle. The visible part of all communication is often the what. What does a business do? If you occupy yourself with the “what” a bit more, then you encounter the how. How does the business work? But the most inspirational and rousing is the “why”. Why does a business do what it does? Sinek urges all inspiring leadership teams to place the why at the front and to gain their employees with it.

I am convinced that leadership through purpose requires a change in thought but that it is worth it in the long term and will be profitable. Even without the studies that consider this theme, it was clear to me from the first change project that this sense-based leadership approach leads to more employee satisfaction and with it brings more creativity and innovation strength.

But don’t drive yourself and your environment crazy – the path to sense-based management is not easy and it requires time – hardly any businesses can change themselves so fundamentally from now to tomorrow. For this reason, there is not one solution to concentrate on in your business, you can only orientate yourself based on success stories of other businesses.

Information about Stephanie Selmer and IT success with heart and brain can be found under She has also written another entry here in our blog: Project and Personal Goals.

Stephanie Selmer is there to lend her support when IT companies or departments are looking for new impulses for new profitable cooperation. As a team developer, author and speaker she seeks to arouse new ideas and visions for a different kind of cooperation. Her clients include medium sized companies from all kinds of industries that are trying to establish a culture of appreciation and goal oriented cooperation.

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