Don’t defer to technology

By Anthony Walley, The CONFIDANT Group

I’ve often been approached by new or young managers for a recommendation of technology that would, for all intents and purposes, do their job for them.

Of course they don’t exactly ask it in that way, but the implication is the same. They want to know if there’s a system that will take over the day-to-day management of people and teams, analyse performance, and demonstrate the cumulative effect on the company’s bottom line.

My response is always the same: that’s your job.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a staunch advocate of the use of appropriate technology in the workplace. Technology that automates manual admin, or batches predictable processes, or crunches numbers. Technology that simplifies the peripheral functions of a manager’s day so that he or she can focus on the integral parts of the job.

Instead of encouraging better performance management through daily interactions with teams and individuals, some companies allow the HR function to execute performance management, typically with the help of some or other software system. This is an alarming trend!

It crosses a line that dilutes responsibility from line managers, and, in turn, dilutes their effectiveness. A healthy HR department functions as the custodian of information systems, but only in support of managers performing the very essential human job of managing people.

There’s no system, software or device that can or should replace the need for human interaction and understanding. If there were, we’d all be out of a job. Rather, as managers, we use our intuition to help others pull together to meet the goals of the organisation we as a collective work for, and there’s no artificial substitute for human intuition.

Every individual has a different way of responding to challenges, incentives and tasks. Every excellent manager knows just how to coach the best possible performance from these individuals. Technology that mimics a manager’s personality and experience to coach thousands of different individuals across dozens of roles within a complex and growing organisation simply hasn’t been invented yet.

Still, my opinion is hardly likely to dissuade a new generation of IT-savvy managers that the answers they seek lie in technology. After all, everything they know to be possible has been the result of technical advancement or ingenuity. I’ve seen countless organisations crash and burn at the hands of spreadsheet and email managers, but in truth that’s not technology’s fault.
Depending on the source, research tells us that 50-60% of communication is non-verbal, hence the need for personal, face-to-face- communication. Equally pervasive technology like video conferencing has, in many cases, been used very effectively to preserve the tone and expressions of a manager working remotely with his teams.

Like anything else that works well, perhaps the best answer is to find a balance between technology and human interaction. One can’t replace the other, but technology can certainly extend and enhance the influence of a good manager. And that’s probably as close as we’d ever want it to get.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you. Email me on anthony@confidant.co.za or add a comment below.

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