Digitalisation is making the process of distributing and accessing information much smoother. The range of different formats, the speed with which something can be sent and the amount of potential content are constantly changing – as are the needs and skills of those employees whose daily work routine involves decoding and integrating this sort of information. As a consequence of this development, managers will have to adapt if they want to make sense of the surge in information and help their teams to process and prioritise, while simultaneously working towards modifying job-specific skills and working patterns to deal with the huge number of information sources.
The ease with which employees can access all kinds of information and the high speed of exchange are both having an impact on the role of managers as information relay points. Together, they generate more need in terms of feedback and support with respect to acquiring such information. Managers then have to help their teams to integrate information, to sort it and mitigate its instantaneity in order to make sense of any threats to the company, while still gaining the perspective and depth required to ensure its legitimacy. A manager’s authority used to lie mainly in their ability to distribute or store information. Today, their credentials depend on their ability to make connections, to bring different employees and departments together, as well as on their capacity to summarise and sort through a mass of information and extract the essential details.
Consequently, the “next generation” manager prioritises sharing and transparency.
If the speed of information distribution increases, so will the range of different types and formats. It is less precise on account of the fact that it is edited more quickly. It is presented in a less formal way (Skype, WhatsApp, emails). It is also more quantitative and covers a scope of topics and approaches that would have been unimaginable prior to the internet age. The challenge is thus two-fold: being able to identify the information that is most reliable and relevant to the organisation or environment in which it is to be applied and knowing how to take the time to process it, while also being able to spot points and pieces of information that require fast action.
Receiving information is one thing, though, actually producing it requires other skills that managers have to bring out in their employees. For example, they need to come up with and develop ideas in advance, use all of the information they have available for inspiration without copying anything directly and make the most of existing knowledge without forgetting to be innovative at the same time.
Innovation, consideration, analysis and the ability to turn strategy into reality are not new skills. The difference is in how they manifest themselves. Each and every one of these skills demands concentration, which can take a number of different forms depending on an individual’s personality and can be hampered by the sheer volume of information. We are entering an era in which we will really need to know ourselves and identify the different ways in which we think if we want to be able to pull the right levers to help us concentrate, speed up information processing, boost idea production, etc. Training, literature, experience and our colleagues can all help us along on this intellectual journey. The support of our manager will also prove critical as they know their employees, see how they work and are in a position to provide invaluable perspective (as well as a suitable working environment where applicable).
Free online training courses, templates, benchmarks, experience sharing, studies and articles all make knowledge acquisition easier. Employees can thus plot their own skill-building route. As a result, digital information is encouraging us to rethink career paths and broaden our skills development horizons beyond the restricted boundaries of our current job description. It is our manager’s job to find and acquire these new skills in order to exploit them when it makes sense to do so, while also creating positions and personalised career paths consistent with the steps employees are taking.
The digitalisation of information, in conjunction with numerous other factors, is contributing to the shift from a vertical system of management to a more horizontal model in which managers take on a coaching/coordinating role. Consequently, this role is becoming recentred around providing teams with meaningful tasks and guidance to help them take a step back and gain some crucial perspective on information and the way in which they approach and process it. As an extension, the role is evolving to focus more on developing employees’ soft skills and guiding them down their own personalised career paths. In doing so, managers are helping to develop their company’s collective intelligence, which will become its major competitive advantage in the long term. After all, it is collective intelligence that will foster employee engagement and work to produce productivity and innovation gains.