Two respected research organizations, one from industry and the other from academia offer seemingly contradictory prescriptions for the workplace.
Gallup, the global consulting company, recently ran a piece on its website that entitled "Managers Account for 70% of Variance in Employee Engagement". It is a workplace truism that is probably widely known but far less widely acknowledged. The article states that "Great managers consistently engage their teams to achieve outstanding performance. They create environments where employees take responsibility for their own — and their team's — engagement and build workplaces that are engines of productivity and profitability." If the stats for employee engagement are at an abysmally low 30% in the US they are at even more appallingly low 13% worldwide.
Gallup's research over the years has found that "Performance fluctuates widely and unnecessarily in most companies, in no small part from the lack of consistency in how people are managed" and the way out of that is to find "great managers" who will serve to "raises employee engagement levels consistently across every business unit" resulting in better metrics across the board. Gallup recommends that companies invest in processes such as predictive analytics like talent audits and talent assessments that go towards finding a great manager,
Running almost counter to the foregoing narrative, the venerable Harvard Business Review's blog has a new age take on the role of managers suggesting that they could be on the endangered species list. In a somewhat inartfully titled piece "Here's How Managers Can Be Replaced By Software" Devin Fidler, who heads the Workable Futures Initiative at the California based Institute for the Future points out how researchers there for the past several years "have been studying the forces now shaping the future of work, and wondering whether high-level management could be automated". They have came up with a "virtual management system that automates complex work by dividing it into small individual tasks". Further, they have completed pilot programs with their software for" assignments in sales, quality assurance, and even hiring" and claim it is sophisticated enough to use it for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk micro-work platform".
The author of the HBR piece suggests, without irony, that these solutions could "enhance work environments, increase employment opportunities, and provide new kinds of worker flexibility, to the benefit of all". The owners of the The Henn-na Hotel in Japan created a worldwide splash, not all positive, with their decision to "employ" robots and obviate the need for front desk staff. A hotel or other organization without managers could quickly fatten the bottom line further but whether it is to "the benefit of all" will be debated a lot longer.