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Managing in 2018

Managing in a flexible, wired and creative world

More flexible working, self-employment, virtual organisations, blurred boundaries, work-life integration, diversity in the workforce, creativity, playfulness in the workplace and routine management tasks assigned to sophisticated software robots – that’s what managers should expect in ten years time.

The report Management Futures: The World in 2018, looks at a range of possible futures for businesses, and the skills and techniques managers will need to be effective.  The future, though, holds many challenges, and the scenarios examined in the report remind us that it probably won't be plain sailing to the best of all possible futures.

The report divides its scenarios into 3 areas:

  • The World Continued
  • Alternative Futures
  • The Desired Future.

The World Continued

The World Continued is seen as the most likely scenario, with an intensification of current demographic, workplace and technology trends. The authors see an increasing polarisation between huge global companies on the one hand and smaller virtual-community-based enterprises.

Large corporations will have an orbiting ebb and flow of smaller niche associated organisations, changing and evolving according to need and demand. Remote working will increase, and non-traditional employment arrangements such as self-employment, temporary work, free agents and e-lancing will become the norm.

Technology is of course key to many of the changes we will see. “Permanent, fast and mobile Internet connections will be omnipresent. Learning how to manage technology and how to disengage from it” will be crucial.

But technology will not only be managed. Increasingly it will start to manage itself – and us. Routine management tasks will increasingly be handed over to technology. And software will also help us interpreting useful information – moving from information management to “managing wisdom”.

Managers will then be looked to more for their creativity, leadership and emotional intelligence, managing a more diverse workforce on a more individualised basis. Managers will also have a key role in supporting employees as work-life balance evolves into work-life integration for many of us.

In many ways the expectations in the ‘World Continued’ are a smooth continuation of everything you may have learnt from Tomorrow’s Company, Work Foundation reports and Flexibility over the past 15 years or so. A Charles Handy world with bells on. And the ‘Desired Future’ is an optimal version of this.

Desirable Future

Virtuality is seen as a a key element of the 'Desirable Future'.  And management becomes a more varied, creative and subtle art, as managers work across boundaries, business models and work styles, inspiring rather than controlling:

"In 2018 more organisations will be virtual. There will be a greater polarisation between the number of organisations that are virtual and large global corporations. Organisations that maintain physical premises will be run by managers who demonstrate genuine competence and create a sense of calm.  People will feel motivated and valued...

"Leaders and managers will be accountable, well informed and anticipating. They will act with humility and at the same time have drive. With highly tuned inter personal skills, they will avoid distractions, cope with different work principles and manage conflicts and emotion. They will know how to manage complex relationships and use their political and partnership skills while operating across organisational boundaries. They will be risk-takers constantly challenging current practices. There will be more people spending time “thinking” as well as doing. Playfulness and creativity will be encouraged to unlock new ideas and will be rewarded accordingly.

"With the increase in remote and virtual working, managers will be able to lead from afar, balancing out a sense of social isolation and a lack of internal relationships. There will be more flexibility in working structures. People will come together in teams for specific projects, complete them, disband and then reform as new projects arise."

There are recommendations for managers on how to adapt to new demands and manage more effectively in this context.  And much of it is about being more flexible, and managing in a more employee-focused and human way.

A key part of effective management is about thinking through and being prepared for the 'surprises' that the next 10 years may bring up - the alternative futures scenarios.

Future, Interrupted

The scenarios that do most to challenge conventional thinking and stimulate creative thinking are in the 16 Alternative Futures. These alternative futures highlight trends that if intensified could disrupt the 'world continued' and the best of all possible worlds. These futures include worlds where:

  • An increasingly ageing society emerges, one where people routinely live to be 120 years old – what will this mean for businesses, and how will it affect what managers have to do?
  • Western economies face a radically shrinking workforce – as prosperity spreads internationally, migrant workers go home
  • Environmental catastrophe - what happens when we fail to meet the challenges of some inconvenient truths …
  • Globalisation is interrupted as powerful governments limit access to the Internet, creating new economic blocs from which businesses may be excluded
  • Religious fundamentalism plays an increasingly dominant role – how will this affect global business and how should companies respond? This is not so fanciful. Increasingly businesses and public sector organisations are expected to buy into secular ideologies based on environmentalism and corporate social responsibility. But their missions could equally be coloured or driven by religious imperatives (either corporately or on the part of individual senior managers) – as indeed many were in the Victorian era
  • The Brain-Enhanced World - a world where human productivity and capacity is enhanced by technology implanted into brains.  This is bound to affect concepts of work and personal capabilities.

All these and more are seen as trajectories that could cut across and have a strong influence on the more mainstream projections. They are not exclusive, and businesses would do well to prepare for a mixture of opportunities and challenges that might arise.

So in 2018 and beyond, the successful manager could well be a playful octogenarian religious crusader, wired into the Internet every minute of the day, working from home and delegating most of her tasks to robots so that she can deal empathetically with her freelance workforce. At the same time she will be integrating into her business life both care for her grandchildren and care for her 110 year-old parents too.

The important message from the report is that greater flexibility is required from organisations, managers and employees. Identifying the possible impacts of social, demographic and technology trends on businesses is important as the nature and benefits of greater flexibilities should not be taken for granted.

New strategies are needed to make greater flexibility work for us, rather than being at the mercy of forces that bombard us with information and choices, blur boundaries beyond comfort and manageability, or leave us at the mercy of machines that manage our lives for us.



Good article and report from 2008


Management tomorrow

A future-scanning report from the Chartered Institute of Management, Management Futures: The World in 2018, looks at a range of possible futures for businesses, and the skills and techniques managers will need to be effective.

The report was developed with the input of a range of senior managers and academics.

Further details and the summary report are available on the:

Chartered Management Institute website.

Flexibility verdict:  A very interesting and thought-provoking report!







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