Back to News

The changing role of managers: how can leaders thrive in 2022?

Up Next… Software developer joins Ososim to capitalise on business growth

As 2021 draws to a close, our CEO Jonathan Knight reflects on the changing role of managers and how organisations can best equip leaders for the challenges ahead.

“After a two-year COVID enforced gap, I returned to the classroom at London Business School last month to co-direct the world’s premier development programme for senior HR executives with my friend and Ososim adviser, Professor Lynda Gratton. Bringing together academics and practitioners from around the world, it provided a great opportunity to discuss and reflect upon the changing priorities and challenges facing organisations as they look to support and get the most out of their people.

The context always influences the conversation, so it was inevitable that in the week after COP26, sustainability was identified as a key issue as well as the current challenges with managing the return, or not, to the office, post-COVID. Sustainability is and will be, a major priority for all organisations, and at Ososim, we believe that simulation can be a powerful tool in helping people turn vision and plans into reality. Watch this space! However, as I reflect on the week, the topic which really stood out to me is the changing role of managers.

We recently interviewed our colleagues, David Dinwoodie and Peter Webb, about the challenges facing leaders. The issues they highlight are undeniable and critical, but it is easy to underestimate the increased demands placed upon managers and the need for organisations to empower them and provide them with support.

Pressures on managers were already increasing before the COVID pandemic.

Companies have evolved to become flatter and less hierarchical, with looser boundaries between companies and the ecosystems within which they operate. This increases the need for better communication, collaboration and influencing skills. The ever-faster pace of change, driven largely by technology and globalisation, means that there is a constant need for new skills. Disruptive and unexpected macro events, such as the financial crisis and Brexit, require agile responsiveness and wise decision-making capabilities, highlighted by Peter Webb.

The pandemic has accelerated these demands and added new ones. The sudden move to virtual for many organisations required managers to up their communication skills, as information no longer flowed by osmosis, and employee well-being, mental and physical, became more important. The natural empathy that some people can display in person was no longer possible and so had to be more deliberate online. Yet, for those organisations that were able to move to entirely virtual work, this was almost easy compared to the complexity now created by the hybrid world that is probably now with us forever.

Manufacturing companies had to adjust to this complexity straight away.

Now managers in other organisations must adjust to a situation where some employees are office-based, and some are working virtually. Often these differences will exist within teams and vary from day to day. People now expect the flexibility that COVID has created of choosing the place and even the time for work. The war for talent has returned and become fiercer. Most companies can no longer dictate these working conditions, and some are even moving to more flexible employment models. Unilever is rolling out an employment model, which is a hybrid between a full-time employee and a contractor. The individual receives the benefits that normally come with permanent employment but the choice of when to work and for how long, and even the freedom to work for competitors at the same time. The manager must coordinate these flexible arrangements and create the time and space for synchronous work and collaboration when that is needed.

The People function needs to provide managers with the support and skills required to succeed in this new world.

At London Business School, I think we concluded that the role of HR is now to create options and flexibility. It is not to create rules and processes, which for some will be a complete 180-degree change. Organisations cannot make leaders and managers be agile and flexible, but they can empower them and remove the constraints that stop them from doing so. They can also provide the skills development to support this on a just-in-time basis. A recent DDI report highlighted the continued underinvestment in development on first-level and mid-level leaders (one half and two-thirds of that spent on senior-level leaders). Yet, in this new hybrid world, these are the people with the responsibility of making all this run smoothly. 2022 will be an ‘interesting’ year for companies, managers and employees (a stereotypically English understatement).

As 2021 draws to an end, I would like to once more thank our clients, our partners and our team, both employees and associates, for all being so wonderful to work with.

Ososim is growing along all three dimensions. We send special greetings to our new clients in 2021, as well as our highly valued existing ones. Working directly or through partners, new clients include Aker Systems, Believe Music, Edwards Life Sciences, Lesaffre, Novartis, Sartorius, Siemens Energy, Stryker, TCS and ZATCA. I hope 2022 will bring more clarity and stability and at least some moments to be together in person.”

– Jonathan Knight, CEO