What’s Ahead For The Next Generation Of Managers

Melanie Lougee is the Head of Employee Workflow Strategy at ServiceNow. She has more than 20 years of experience working in HR technology and HR service management, including four years as a Gartner analyst where she provided advisory services to C-level and leadership teams on technology, transformation, change management and HR communications strategies. Prior to Gartner, Melanie held various strategy positions at Oracle (and, formerly PeopleSoft) and enterprise software provider, Infor.

I had the opportunity to interview Melanie recently. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:

Jill Griffin: So, how has the pandemic changed the way companies and managers work and support employees?

Melanie Lougee: I think it will be a much more meaningful relationship going forward. If we think about where we were before the pandemic, companies were focused on perks and trying to outdo each other with these iconic corporate headquarters and lots of dry cleaning, fancy gyms, and food.

Some industries have continued to use physical buildings during the pandemic, but for many, these buildings have been sitting empty for a year. What’s happened across the board is that there’s been a shift in the type of benefits companies are offering to accommodate what people need – things like healthcare, flexible schedules and work hours, the flexibility to take a leave of absence to take care of your family, and childcare accommodations.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s makes me think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Before the pandemic, companies focused on offering employees the coolest perks. Now the relationship between companies and their employees has gone back to basics, with companies focused on health and wellbeing. I think we’re going to see more of that moving forward. In particular, the pandemic shone a light on women and childcare, with so many women leaving the workforce. What is it going to take to bring them back and start bridging those gaps? I think companies are now thinking about what they need to do to create a durable relationship. This will be more important than previous “perks,” like the ability to drop off your dry cleaning.

Griffin: That’s such a good answer. This is probably an extension of that, so what does the future role of managers look like?

Lougee: I think managers are at the crux of so many different trends that are happening right now. The manager role is going to be the key link between what changes are happening at the corporate level and the needs of the individuals.

Someone might have become a manager 20 years ago. But because COVID has changed everything from workplace trends to technologies, they now need to figure out how to look after a workforce that wants unparalleled flexibility. Managers might also need to start opening their minds to being able to recruit from remote locations. They’re being asked to pay attention and support a more diverse candidate pool.

Companies are also leaning more heavily on a contingent workforce as they start ramping back up, both to fit “difficult to find” skill sets or to flex their overall workforce, like retail during the holiday season or H&R Block during tax season.

So, the manager is now dealing with contingent workers, full time workers, and a hybrid, distributed workforce, all with changing workplace expectations. They need tools to be able to know where all their employees are and to be able to make the smartest choices they can about things like hiring, slotting people against opportunities or places, and career mobility. They’re almost becoming like a talent agent, sitting in the middle.

Griffin: What a great analogy.

Lougee: Managers really are in the middle. They’ve got employees that are looking at an opening job market and may want to change jobs. They’re needing to ramp up full-time, in-person employees and hybrid or part-time employees. How do they manage all those almost limitless permutations of that relationship between the corporation and the individuals?

Griffin: Yes, and that manager job has never been more important. So, speaking of that then, if you were sitting there, and you knew you had a couple of managers that needed revamping, a tool kit, how would you do that?

Lougee: There is training and then there are technologies that companies are using. Technology is often the easier answer but is traditionally siloed.

Departments have often historically acted alone when they made technology purchases, so over time, managers have ended up with 20+ applications that don’t talk to each other. They’re using one system to approve expense reports, another to hire and another to find gig workers. This adds up. Managers need one place that simplifies things like approvals and gives a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on, versus dealing with different applications that they can’t even find because they don’t have a central operating point.

From a skills perspective, companies need to be able to assess the strengths and opportunities for different managers and help them develop. Companies must determine if these managers have the interest and capability to grow into what the new manager role requires. If so, they must make it easy for them to get the training they need and provide resources to help them navigate situations they’ve never experienced before. Managers need this support and guidance in the flow of their work so that it’s timely and relevant. For example, a course on equitable compensation taken during new hire orientation is long forgotten before the annual compensation process. This learning needs to happen within the process itself to be most effective.

Griffin: Yes, I agree. Can you give me some bullet points that managers can take to drive all this complexity?

Lougee: It’s very complex. I think one thing that companies need to do is make it easy for managers to understand their workforce. As a manager, I might have hourly employees in the U.S. and salaried employees in Europe. I shouldn’t have to dig through various systems to figure out which holidays apply to different employees, what benefits they’re eligible for, or how I keep myself from being at-risk of violating policy. Companies need one central place for managers to easily keep track of the details of all their different employees.

I think the key for any successful employer going forward will be to have empathy at scale. You must take the time to know your workforce and understand that their needs are going to be different depending on what their situation is. Having empathy at scale is important.

This doesn’t end with COVID. The world is going to keep changing. We will continue to see changes in society, in the political landscape, with climate change. There will continue to be new challenges that drive the need to be a much more responsive employer and manager.


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