The Basics of Management in an Era of Change and Uncertainty

4 workers discussing a project challenge
••• GettyImages/Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury

One of the reasons I enjoy teaching  principles of management courses to undergraduates on occasion is to observe the students as they recognize that management as an art and science offers the power to transform organizations, industries, careers, and even the world.

They come in expecting a boring slog through boring content and (many) leave with a bit of Gary Hamel's perspective that "management is the technology of human achievement." I have had students send me notes a few years later suggesting that this new view on the potential of management practices to make a difference helped them set a new course in their careers.

This article is intended for anyone interested in gaining broader exposure to the challenges and opportunities inherent in management and managing in an era characterized by change and uncertainty. It is intended to whet your appetite for further exploration and offer links to articles to help initiate this exploration.

Adolescence and the Art and Science of Management

Management as a formal discipline is relatively young, taking root in the industrial revolution stretching from the late 18th century through much of the 20th century. Many of the practices of management today are rooted in the principles and approaches conceived in prior eras. 

Everything that has happened over the past few decades, including the emergence of the internet, the explosion of data, the exponential growth in computer processing power and advancements in telecommunications, sensors and now artificial intelligence, is demanding that we modernize management for the times. 

Add in the broader social and global forces that have dominated the planet for decades, including the opening of new markets around the globe, the emergence of India and China as major economies, the consistent reduction in trade barriers and now the aging global population, and you have a perfect recipe for constant change and uncertainty. Management must evolve to account for the speed of change, the volatility of market, and the demands and needs of knowledge workers on a global basis. 

The following articles and links offer you additional context for exploring this emerging new world and the demands it is placing on managers and leaders. 

Context for Today's Manager

Background context for some of the major challenges of today's manager or leader are found in:

The Challenges of the Organization in this Era

The organization of workers under a legal structure such as a corporation is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. Given the changes referenced above, the organization itself is being forced to change to adapt to new ways of getting work done including distance work, telecommuting, virtual teams and many other changes. For more on this topic, consider:

Coping with the Speed of Change as a Manager

Speed, agility, and adaptability are essential attributes for survival and success in this world. Along with the increased demand for speed comes increased risk. Today's managers work hard to learn to navigate and adapt without increasing the risk for their firms. 

Succeeding in a World of Projects:

Remember those classroom group projects you hated as a student? Welcome to a world of endless group projects, where success or failure of the organization is in part determined by the ability of employees to assemble, innovate, execute and then reform and do it all over again on another issue. Today's manager must understand project management and be prepared to form and guide groups to high performance. Suggested reading include:

Teaming and Trust-Building

Beyond the work of projects, we innovate, execute and operate in a team environment. Now, more than ever, it is essential for effective managers to learn to cultivate trust with team members. Consider:

Leading and Developing Leaders

No one wants a manager who cannot lead or a leader who cannot manage. While academics like to separate these two roles, the distinction is meaningless. There are however unique behaviors that can be more described as leader or managing. Every manager today must understand what it means to lead and work deliberately to develop their leadership abilities. 

Cultivating a Global Perspective

What happens in Bangalore or Beijing impacts your firm situation in Anyplace, U.S.A. Today, effective managers strive to cultivate a perspective that crosses boundaries and cultures in pursuit of new customers, partners, and approaches. 

Learning and Managing Go Hand-in-Hand

If you are not learning you are moving backward at the speed of change. Constant experimentation and the resultant learning are essential for survival and success. Content to help you fuel your own learning activities includes:

The Bottom Line

While there are many additional topics to explore, including decision-making, communication, coaching and feedback, the aforementioned themes offer a great starting point for cultivating context on the issues of managing in today's world of change. For those who choose to embrace the opportunities and challenges of our era of change and uncertainty and who dedicate themselves to innovating as managers and leaders, this is indeed the best of times. You might just help the field of management grow up along the way.