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Covid’s Lesson For Top Brass

Young managers eager to adopt pandemic-induced changes

Covid19 has been plaguing the planet for over a year and a half. The end of the killer pandemic is nowhere in sight. Most facets of our life have been turned topsy-turvy. So it would be criminally clichéd to ask whether business leadership style too has changed during these catastrophic times. It may though be pertinent to ask as to who has adapted better to the changed business scenario: top brass or budding managers.

By its very nature, youth is more amenable to change. Unburdened by the legacy of the past and enthused by the promise of a bright future, young managers have always been in the forefront of embracing modern ways. But the green signal has to come from the top. Unfortunately, the big bosses are too steeped in their antediluvian management and business style to shake off the past and catch up with the times.

But Covid19 is now shaking the big bosses out of their slumber. It is becoming increasingly obvious that companies which had adopted digitalisation early have not only coped with the current crisis better but are also way ahead of competition. Pro-active change in leadership styles is the secret of their success. Google is a stellar example of what I would call a revolution. We are now witnessing a part of the Google act happening around us in the form of remote or work-from-home working.

Did we have to wait for a worldwide pandemic to adopt a work style which enamors us today? Too large a section of the top business leadership would still judge young managers by office attendance than by productivity. By stubbornly sticking to their outmoded thinking in this disease-ravaged time, the bosses are also putting the lives of managers at grave risk. These ‘pucca’ top managers are always found swearing by ‘dhandha’ and mocking modern management which is more empirical, measurable, data and welfare driven.

Doesn’t remote working make more sense even from the ‘profit-only’ perspective of these ‘pucca’ bosses? You save big money on office real estate. Conveyance expenses get drastically reduced. Young managers have more time and energy to focus on their real job. The list goes on and on though with the caveat that remote working cannot be all pervasive particularly for blue collar workers in manufacturing workshops.

To optimise benefits from remote working, the top managers – who are invariably senior in years – need to change their outlook. Gone are the days when micro management used to be the in-thing and work used to be extracted through fear and threat of punishment. A well-qualified young manager certainly does not relish his immediate boss staring down his shoulders all the time. Why this lack of trust? Is it just because the bosses were treated this way by their higher-ups in the typical saas-bahu (mother-in-law vs. daughter-in-law) manner?

Even basic knowledge of modern human resource development techniques would help. There are tested and proven ways of enhancing engagement of managers, especially young ones, with the company. Measurement of performance can be made more objective and task-relevant through techniques like balanced scorecard. I am not advocating escape from accountability for young executives. However, their invasive monitoring should be a big ‘no’.

But are the old economy chiefs willing to give up hierarchy and run a flatter organisation? If they are not, then they will have to, not only because modern systems are bearing better results but also because the days of whip-wielding slave masters are gone. New ways of optimising human resources are emerging and are being lapped up by enlightened top bosses and companies.

However, it is plain as day that only the top bosses can lead the way to change, particularly in our part of the world. We are still living in semi-feudal times. Howsoever eager and enthusiastic young managers may be regarding modern management, they can do little till those who hold the purse strings choose to listen. So the prime task of upcoming managers, management gurus and B-schools is to promote and propagate the advantages of remote functioning and a host of allied changes for business.

Or shall we wait for more cataclysmic occurrences before we are compelled to adopt the enlightened path!

Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. ([email protected])

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