A New Ideology for Management in the Digital Age

We may like it or not, but everyone who works has a personal Ideology, a comprehensive set of normative beliefs and ideas.  This ideology has been learned in school, in university and from working in companies. It is deeply engrained in every individual. It is very hard to change.

Ideologies are hard to break. Take the ideology of communism, which despite good intentions, did not work out, but kept being embedded in person’s mind for at least a decade. Take the Ideology of Share Holder Value, which in its most extreme dominance in the 1990’s led to disastrous mergers based on short-term, financial decisions. Both of these ideologies are deemed obsolete by now, even so, a lot of ideas embedded in them remain valid.

Or look at a dominant Ideology held by some of the established Silicon Valley giants today, which have re-interpreted monopolies (Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.) to be good, as they provide more money that can be reinvested into innovation. An ideology described by Peter Thiel, an outspoken early supporter of Donald Trump, in his influential book “From Zero to One.”

All ideologies rest on individual ideas and beliefs that are self- supporting. Therefore, they are hard to change. And so is the current ideology of work and management.

But the world has changed. With the Digital Revolution in full swing, the social innovation of Management needs to change too. As defined in the last post Big Tax Cut! Flatten the Management Hierarchy:

Management in the Digital Age = Freedom * Discipline * Autonomy * Accountability

  • Freedom to pursue personal fulfillment
  • Discipline to care for the rules
  • Autonomy to say and do as you want without fear
  • Accountability for success and failures

So what on earth is the new “Digital Manager” compared to the Classic Manager supposed to be doing day by day? Here is my answer in four categories.

1.Sic Semper Tyrannis!

Since Cesar and Brutus, Autocrats are regularly killed. Although the murderer is not always the Gardener  – this time,  the murderer really is the Gardener.


To maximize the creativity of an organization, the autocrats need to make way for a Digital Manager who interprets his job as an Explorer, a Coach, and a Gardener. The Digital Manager

  • is bestowing a lot of authority, and freedom to the team
  • refrains from controlling inputs and focuses on refining outputs
  • does no longer define the supposedly one best way to do things but lets teams experiment, in the conviction that inefficiencies incurred in the short run will be more than paid for by efficiency created by learning and personal development in the future

2. Put yourself on the sidelines

A football coach is on the sideline to analyze the game and make decisions. She has set up her team before the game, and she will improve the team by walking the team members through the learnings afterward. And so should a manager in the Digital Age.


The leadership span is increased by the factor of 5 from an average of 10 to 50. Why this? This increase is caused by the primary target of the Digital Management Model, i.e. to release the creativity of an organization and of individuals to the utmost.

Creativity and Freedom are so interrelated in human nature that a manager hovering near a subordinate will quickly be driving out all initiative.

Once in a while, there are emotionally intelligent managers who may be able to avoid this drowning of individual initiative for a time, but it wouldn’t be wise to rely on good luck.

Better to rely on a system of management which restricts the access of managers to employees so they can tune the mission and entice expected behaviors through the management tools described below, instead of ordering people to do things.

And a leadership span of 50 does just that. First, there is simply not enough time to micro manage. Second, employees must find their way into the system themselves. Coached by the new “Digital Managers,” but still they are to a large part the master of their own destiny, thereby causing the exact behavior and dynamics that Digitalization calls for.

3. Be a Close Observer of Results

The day to day tasks of managers shifts from “do as I say” to “do as you please.” If the mission is clear and social norms are embedded inside the organization, this will not lead to chaos, but to creativity.


The strategy is no longer something that is defined in a periodic exercise somewhere up in the hierarchy and then analytically broken down into its component parts in the hierarchy.  Instead, strategy becomes a permanent process that is initiated top-down as well as bottom-up. Interestingly, research in the field of Innovation Management has been pointing towards this bottom-up/top-down way as the optimal path to innovation for a long time. Numerous tools have been devised, such as Knowledge Management or Workflows for the appraisal for improvements handed in by employees.  But none of these innovation management tools got very far:  Hierarchy, Middle management and the whole way that classical organizations fail to give workers much context to their work at all conspired against any significant results.

One very distressing fact for traditional managers is that hiring decisions are no longer done by them. Why not? Because the results of managers selecting candidates are simply inferior to rule, test- and panel-based selection procedures. See Hiring like a Pro: Lessons from Google.

Targets are still set, but on a much higher level, based on a mission and not daily priorities. See Priorities are left to the team to figure out. See Force 4: New Work organization.

Teams are not defined and organized by managers. An additional set-up might be recommended, but once this is done, team members are free to associate and dissociate themselves from teams. Team sizes are not given but fluctuate. This approach has the danger that unwanted, tedious jobs will be vacant  – until the need for them grows overwhelmingly high or they are automated or organized away.

Tactical and operational decisions are left to the teams. What a manager controls are the overall mission, and she is the guardian of the team rules. A Digital Manager needs to realize that she is no longer the best expert in the room.  In the absence of an Autocrat, decisions inside team need to be made by consensus, absolute or qualified majority. A Digital Manager needs to define the rules, circumstances, and procedures by which decisions are made and followed through.

Control is delegated to the teams. As Control is a huge chunk of what traditional management is about, this “socialization of control” causes a big management tax cut, see Big Tax Cut! Flatten the Management Hierarchy.

Personnel Development becomes an essential activity. The Digital Manager is no longer the superior that needs to be impressed, served and cozied up to. Instead, he becomes an ally in the personal development and advancement of an employee. A huge benefit to the organization and the individual.

4. Use new tools – burn the outdated ones

As the purpose and tasks of Mangement changes in the digital age, tools need to change, too. After all, archeologists describe cultures by the traits of the tools they have used (the plow, the spindle, etc.).


One on one meetings, that allow managers to build and maintain personal rapport with an employee are no longer needed, as the employee is much more strongly embedded in his team and the community.   It is no longer practicable with a leadership span of 50 employees. And it is even counterproductive, as too much daily proximity destroys the autonomy of individuals.

Delegation remains relevant, but it is now done on a much grander, systematic scale. Instead of tasks, missions are given. They are granted to teams, not persons.

Feedback remains critical to all intents and purposes. The main rule of “good” feedback remains intact: Give Feedback immediately on observed behavior, not postponed and not based on hearsay.

Team Meetings are no longer organized or hosted by a manager. Instead, each team devises their own rules, whatever works best for them at a particular point in time. Team members take turns in preparing, heading and to follow-up on meetings.

There are still regular reports on financial matters, but they are augmented by KPI driven, quantitative measurements of results and deliverables as a more direct proxy for performance.

Job design is entirely taken out of the hand of a manager. The team’s dynamics take care that tasks are done, by whoever is competent, available and most highly motivated at a particular point in time. The whole term “job” as understood as a static job description is obsolete, as the ownership of tasks changes way too fast. Instead, the term “role” becomes much more meaningful, even so, there may be multiple roles that team members have at any point in time.

Personal work methods remain highly personal. What changes is transparency: Instead of keeping all your tasks, your daily schedule and priorities close to your body, invisible to all other members of the organizations, they should be shared on a whiteboard or shared in groupware. Trust is of the essence for a digital organization to perform well and Transparency fosters trust.

An often overlooked tool are simple checklists for personal use or shared with teams. These enable knowledge to be captured transparently, actions to be conducted thoroughly and learning to be done systematically. There is really not much different between the advantages of using checklists in a conventional or a digital organization, except for the greater emphasis on learning and transparency in a digital group. For more info checklists see Atul Gawande’s Book “The Checklist Manifesto.”

Budgets are still necessary, but business cases which are continually updated with the results of experiments are maintained on a team level. These are not the heavyweight business cases of controlling, finance or logistics departments, but light weight, KPI driven business cases as used in the Lean Movement.

Performance Evaluation can be done away with. It is replaced by more coaching. More feedback and mission based objective key results (OKR) agreements.

The closing of obsolete activities and tasks is something that a manager can leave to a great extend to the teams, as they have authority to prioritize freely within their mission.


There are numerous challenges:

  • What is the career path to advancement, if there only 20% Management positions left?
  • Who will be paid how much?
  • What to do about dysfunctional teams?
  • What to do with unwanted jobs, i.e. jobs that no one wants to take on?
  •  What about time critical actions, emergencies when every minute counts – should a company continue to rely on group decisions?
  • What about synergies, are they no longer necessary?
  • etc.

I will try to give answers in the next post.

Examples of  Management Ideologies

A glimpse of some existing management ideologies can be found in the following posts:

Force 5: Culture (continued): Xaomi, Spotify, Amazon, and gov.uk

Good Managers – Good Teams: Lessons from Google

Tired of hierarchy? Try this

9 reasons why your organization might be left behind

Exponential Organizations – a way forward for traditional companies?


Hoped you liked this post. You are welcome to comment!

If interested, try my German language MangementDigital podcast.

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