Management is irreplaceable

It cannot be overlooked in any industry

There is a tech revolution going on in the world. New tech companies are not only being formed in Silicon Valley but also in garages of different neighborhoods or even in colleges and universities. Social media, cloud computing, analytics, mobile technology etc. are changing the game. One thing common among all these tech startups is the fact that most employees in such organizations are engineers. They are engineer-dependent when they start their operations as the initial objective is to create a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).

Every company, however big or small, is formed with a goal in mind. They have their own mission, vision, and objectives. The job of the employees is to attain the goals. When there is a technocratic culture prevalent, engineers do not find value in having managers. They appreciate having direct communication with the upper hierarchy and do not see the need of having layers, as they are creating tangible products based on the needs of the top management. But this is where the problem starts.

When all the technical experts are busy designing and debugging, they often leave out the bigger picture. Interpersonal conflicts arise between colleagues and overall motivation is affected. Top management would be called upon every now and then to resolve such conflicts and would lead them to micro-managing petty day to day issues. All these would lead to a holistic adverse impact on the fortunes of the company.

This gives rise to the need for management. Managers are required to communicate strategy, helping employees prioritize projects, facilitating collaboration and also help in creating an effective line of communication, supporting career development and ensuring that processes and systems are aligned with company goals. Many successful technocratic companies have experienced the need for management.

How Google sold its engineers on management

Google is one such company. When Google started its journey, the co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin experimented with a flat hierarchy. They removed the managers to ensure direct communication with the engineers. The consequences were quite alarming. The owners found themselves being questioned about expense reports, interpersonal conflicts, and other trivial issues. Now the owners were convinced of the need for management. Next challenge was to convince the employees of the importance of management.

The employees of Google are highly skilled and are handpicked through a rigorous data-driven process. These employees do not accept top-down directives without question. The only way to convince these employees about the need for management was to have a similar data-driven model to convince them about the merits of management. They initiated Project Oxygen which finally made these employees buy into the need for Managers.

Louis V. Gerstner Jr. the savior of IBM

IBM is another example. It is believed that this tech company was saved by the expertise of a manager. When Louis V. Gerstner Jr. joined the company in April 1993, the company was on the verge of dis-aggregation. The prevalent thought of the time was that IBM’s core mainframe business was headed to obsolescence. Hence IBM’s own management wanted to disintegrate and re-brand the individual divisions. Gerstner called upon his years of experience and convinced the hierarchy of revising the plan. His foresight gave him reason to believe that there was a vital need for a broad based information technology integrator. This paved the way for IBM to deliver complete IT solutions to customers. Thus, services could be sold as an add-on. This meant incremental revenue and hence incremental business. IBM was saved by Gerstner’s management.

Need for management at relatively smaller firms

Research carried out on smaller tech firms has depicted that managers may affect company performance more than anyone else in an organization, even top executives or workers in creative roles, as they effectively compile the new ideas essential for the company’s growth and filters out unconventional ideas. This would help in the stringing of effective views to the top management and help them in concentrating on only what is positive.

GitHub, a ten-year-old San Francisco collaboration-software company, had struggled at one point to get the balance between the need for managers against the desire to keep things as flexible as it had started out with. As the company grew to having 200 employees, the need for some oversight meant a layer of middle management had become inevitable for the company. The top management no longer wanted to remain involved in micro-management.

The trick for smaller companies, such as GitHub had been in making sure decisions get made and tasks get done without evolving into a bureaucracy or hierarchy. GitHub had then adopted a relaxed approach to management employing self-motivated managers who are comfortable in the generally boss-less environment they purposely built from the start. Currently, they have successfully grown to a company having 594 employees worldwide hosting 52+ million projects.

Conclusion

No one can negate the importance of engineers in technocratic organizations. They are the ones who make the product come to life and nurture it. But management is also required alongside. There may be different views, approaches, and styles regarding management, especially in a technocratic company. But there is no doubt about the importance of management in such organizations. As the three mentioned examples illustrate, management helps organizations attain their end goal and provide them an edge over others.