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The Evolving Role of Organizational Managers

The role of managers in organizations has undergone substantial changes in recent decades due to a variety of technological, cultural, and economic shifts. While managers were once primarily responsible for directing work and ensuring tasks were completed, their responsibilities have expanded to encompass areas like strategic planning, change management, talent development, and more.

Today we will explore how the manager role has changed, with a focus on practical applications and examples relevant to various organizational contexts.

Leadership Styles Shift Toward Collaboration

Research into effective leadership styles has found that more collaborative, egalitarian approaches better suit today's organizations (Goffee & Jones, 2015; Wheatley, 2006). The command-and-control styles of the past are gradually being replaced by leaders who empower employees, value diversity of thought, and make decisions through consensus building.

  • Shared Leadership. One manifestation of this shift is the rise of shared or distributed leadership models, where influence and responsibility are dispersed across both managers and non-managers (Day et al., 2004; Pearce & Conger, 2003). At technology company GitHub, for example, self-organized teams collectively determine priorities and make decisions democratically without hierarchical oversight. This allows employees stronger buy-in and autonomy over their work.

  • Coaching Approaches. Managerial behaviors are also becoming more coaching-oriented. Instead of dictating tasks, effective managers now facilitate employee growth and problem solving through questioning, active listening, and providing ongoing feedback (Hunt & Weintraub, 2007; Rock & Donde, 2008). A good example is Amazon, where managers are "stewards" responsible for regularly mentoring direct reports and clearing roadblocks to allow high performance and independence.

  • Diversity and Inclusion. As the workforce becomes more diverse, the ability to foster inclusion has become a core competency for modern managers. Academia recommends cultivating psychological safety to solicit diverse viewpoints, addressing biases, and setting an example of valuing all employees equally (Kochan et al., 2003; Nelson & Probst, 2004). Many large companies now provide unconscious bias training and have manager resource groups focused on topics like gender and racial equity.

Developing Talent is Key Responsibility

As the nature of work changes, managers are expected to shift focus toward developing their teams' long-term skills and career paths. Research underscores the importance of the following approaches:

  • Individual Development Planning. Proactive talent development involves regularly conducting skills assessments, creating individualized development plans with employees, and providing growth opportunities like stretch assignments, mentorship programs, and further education (Cappelli, 2008; McLagen, 1997). For instance, software giant Adobe makes annual development planning a core part of performance reviews to retain top performers.

  • Lifelong Learning Culture. To respond nimbly to market shifts, organizations require workers equipped for constant adaptation (Drucker, 1999). Managers thus foster an attitude of continuous self-improvement through establishing learning and development programs, funding external training, and promoting on-the-job experimentation (Klein et al., 2001; Nonaka, 1991). At design firm IDEO, experimentation is explicitly valued over perfection and small failures are seen as learning opportunities.

  • Knowledge Sharing. Retaining institutional knowledge requires facilitating inter-team connections and exchanges. Scholars recommend rotating roles, secondments to other teams, informal networking events, and establishing communities of practice for mentoring and skill transfer between employees (Dalkir, 2005; Wenger, 1998). As an example, consulting firm McKinsey organizes regular internal conferences where colleagues give presentations on completed projects.

Technology Integration Changes Management Practices

Continuous technological advancements necessitate that managers adapt many day-to-day processes. Key adjustments include:

  • Adopting Collaboration Tools: Research shows software like Slack, Asana, and Microsoft Teams boosts teamwork by streamlining communication and project tracking across locations (Majchrzak et al., 2013; Yoo & Alavi, 2004). Automotive supplier Magna uses these platforms to coordinate workstreams spanning multiple international facilities.

  • Leveraging Data and Analytics: Effective decision making depends on deriving insights from diverse internal and external sources (Davenport & Harris, 2017). Tools like Salesforce, Tableau and Google Data Studio supply real-time operational metrics and benchmarking to guide evidence-based management. Hospital network Johns Hopkins instituted data dashboards accessible to all clinicians.

  • Embracing Agile Methods: Iterative, collaborative workflows epitomized by Scrum and Kanban benefit knowledge work that depends on rapid prototyping, pivoting and incremental progress reporting (Dingsoyr et al., 2012). At tech startup Basecamp, managers utilize online project boards to run highly autonomous, self-managing teams.

  • Championing Digital Transformation: As AI, robotics, virtual reality and other frontier technologies disrupt industries, managers help workers adopt innovations to raise productivity or develop new revenue streams (Legner et al., 2017). German automaker BMW established an "Innovation Lab" where managers prototype futuristic manufacturing techniques.


The role of organizational managers has substantially broadened beyond traditional operational responsibilities. Transitioning to collaborative leadership focused on developing talent through lifelong learning and knowledge sharing better equips teams for today's volatile business environment. Integration of workplace technologies also changes core management practices around communication, decision making and process management. Overall, the evolving manager role centers on facilitating empowerment, adaptation and creativity across distributed, self-organizing workforces. With a foundation in both research and practical application, organizations that enact these shifts will build a strategic advantage in continually reinventing work and sustaining competitive edges.


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Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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