Aquila Capital Partners

Austin &
New York City

The Days of the Task-Oriented Manager Are Over

We are entering a new era of business. Leaders can no longer remove themselves from the day-to-day aspects of their company and employees. They must be more involved. Employees want to know that their leaders are present, dedicated to the company mission. Organizations are changing—companies are shifting leadership structures and sharing more responsibilities between teams. Hybrid or remote work is the new normal. As things continue to evolve, it is vital that management and leadership successfully motivate their employees throughout these changes. 

Changing Leadership Structure and Communicating Your Company’s Purpose 

Many leaders struggle with keeping their employees engaged throughout the monotonous day-to-day. Work can become myopic, which leaves employees feeling disconnected. It’s especially challenging when you add the separate nature of hybrid or remote work environments. Because many of us are working remotely, leaders must engage their employees more frequently and differently. One way of keeping employees motivated is by giving them more of a voice in the company and creating a shared sense of responsibility. 

A concept that has increased in popularity is that of a horizontal leadership structure. This type of company utilizes a flat leadership structure, meaning that there are fewer managers and more employees. This type of organization gives employees more say in decision-making without having to go through several tiers to get approval. This often encourages collaboration and a shared sense of responsibility across projects. It’s not about changing the content of your communication so much as it is about changing the methods and structure. This method includes increasing the flow of communication, empowering employees to make more decisions for the company, and collaborating across teams.  

Another excellent way of keeping employees engaged is by intentionally communicating your company’s purpose. In a previous blog, I discussed why I invest in purpose-driven companies. These companies know why they exist—what their core value and overall mission are. Your company’s why never changes, even if your methodology does. It’s the C-suite’s job to communicate this clearly to their employees. You must make sure employees don’t forget their company’s purpose.

Leading Versus Managing Employees

Leadership matters more than it ever has, but in years past, you didn’t necessarily have to “lead” people—you could just manage them. Employees don’t need micro-managers. Broadly speaking, for your team to stay motivated, you must keep them engaged in your company values and mission. Many businesses were run in a task-oriented, command and control environment. In the workplace going forward, where work is more decentralized and smaller and smaller businesses are doing the work of larger companies, you must focus on leadership, not just management. The biggest difference between the two? One style focuses on how things are done. The other focuses on making sure everyone understands what the goal is and executes projects to achieve said goal. Why is that the goal? Once you’re certain that everyone is on the same page with you and clearly understands the purpose of the organization, then you can give people latitude to decipher on their own how to get there.

In the modern working environment, you aren’t sitting in an office together for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. Executives can’t simply preside over people. Part of the framework is making sure you, the leader, articulate what you are trying to accomplish. Some people refer to this as the mission, and on a broad level that is true, but on a smaller level the answer is the goals and objectives you are trying to achieve and accomplish. 

More often than not, a successful leader will allow employees to decide for themselves how they are going to accomplish their goal, instead of leading them through a step-by-step process of how to get to the desired end result. This connects back to the idea of a horizontal leadership structure, which encourages peer-to-peer collaboration and eliminates micro-management. If you want to grow and develop trust with your team, you are going to let them have independence and make decisions for themselves.

Becoming Outcome-Based Versus Process-Based

It all comes back to this: successful company leaders are focused on getting to their company’s core mission instead of dictating every step of the process. As a whole, businesses are moving away from process-based models and toward outcome-based models. 

When the majority of your employees are working from home, you can’t monitor every hour of their day to make sure they follow particular procedures. You have to give them a little equity and trust that they are doing the work. Employees that know the purpose of their company are more inclined to do the work well. David Lloyd, CEO of The Intern Group, says: “CEOs should focus on results rather than hours worked and from where, and therefore offer flexible hours and work location as a motivation method.” Giving them the freedom to create their own procedures cultivates trust. When employees feel that their leaders trust them, they feel a sense of responsibility and are motivated to accomplish more. 

A phrase I’ve used in the past is “freedom within a framework”. As we become more outcome-based, we cannot continue to do business the old-fashioned way. Leaders need to be outcome-driven and let their employees figure out for themselves how they want to accomplish their tasks. Allowing employees the freedom to decide how they want to accomplish their goals builds trust between teams and ultimately builds a better business model. 

Read more for additional insights from Mark E. Watson III