Managers: it’s time for soft skills

No more hierarchies, silos or compartmentalised information… digital has profoundly affected the way businesses operate. And along with it, the role of the manager. How should he or she adapt? What qualities should a good manager have… in the digital age?
Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts, Ph.D and professor in management and HR at HEC shares his thoughts on the subject.  

How would you compare the manager’s role 15 years ago and today…

Charles-Henri Besseyre des Horts: Digital transformation within businesses has profoundly changed the role of the manager. They no longer just give orders: they ‘coach’ their team, guides them. Their mission is to put cooperation into practice with both employees and peers.

How do collaborative tools, such as corporate social networks, change hierarchical relationships?

C.-H. H.: Corporate social networks are helpful tools in supporting and facilitating transformation for the company and its management. They connect employees, create communities across silos, break down hierarchies… in this context, the manager is no longer the only one with the knowledge, since digital tools enable everyone to know anything and everything, right now. So knowledge no longer means power! However, while digital tools have abolished one form of power, they have introduced another. Those who master these tools now have power over those who haven’t, it’s geeks over non-geeks.

Nowadays, managers must often manage mobile teams. How can digital tools help them?

C.-H. H.: Unlike working collaboratively, mobility is easy to impose because it meets the needs of both companies and employees. Working remotely, that started with laptops and mobile phones, has grown with new digital tools. Managers have a new challenge: how to manage mobile and/or remote teams. The real question is now: “how can you help people who don’t know each other to work together?” A team is now a community. To make it happen, you need to first create a link, which can only be done by sharing moments. Whether by organising a seminar to bring everyone together… or why not through partying together!

Thanks to participative and collective management, is the ‘liberated company’ becoming a reality?

C.-H. H.: First of all, it must be said that the liberated company, which is based on autonomy, trust and respect, was not a concept born out of digital transformation: it first appeared more than 50 years ago! Today, new digital tools just help bring it to life. But just because the tool exists doesn’t mean it will spontaneously happen! It’s up to managers to abandon their traditional top-down approach and encourage teamwork so that collaboration becomes a lasting way of working in the company.

What are the 3 essential qualities of a manager in a company that’s undergoing digital transformation?

C.-H. H.: Firstly, adaptability is essential because everything is evolving so quickly nowadays. Being authentic is also essential for managers to gain the trust of their team. They must do what they say they’re going to do. Finally, they need humility, because today more than ever they need to ‘lead though serving’ which is to say leading by supporting their team. It’s their human qualities rather than their technical skills that make managers legitimate. While technology has never been so present in a business, the human factor has become even more essential: it’s time for soft skills!