Three SMaRT Strategies for the Next Decade
Read Time: 9 minutes, 30 seconds
The pandemic, like several crises before it, challenged the traditional definition of “manager.” Some managerial skills flew out the window, but others—particularly the need to manage communications, technology, and people—became more important than ever.
Looking ahead to the future of work and of your work, in particular, can be stressful. The good news is threefold:
- New opportunities accompany all of these changes, and you can start preparing now to grasp them.
- You are not alone; we are all muddling through the same future together.
- SMaRT skills and strategies will help you rise to the challenges of the next decade and continue your growth as a manager and leader.
Thanks to the speed at which change now occurs and because of technology and the complexity of national and global links in every industry, you have to be prepared for organizational transformations that upset long-established work conditions, long-range planning, and the interplay of people, processes, and goals. Managers must communicate throughout that upheaval, from the board room to the factory floor and from entire teams to individual customers.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the most common questions people have during any change are:
- What is changing?
- Why is it changing?
- How will it affect my area of work?
- How will it affect me?
The C-suite team develops the answers and communicates them to managers and directors. Team leaders and directors transmit answers to teams, and team members may be the ones who talk to customers. Plus, they must all be willing to listen to and relay feedback. That makes communication a valuable skill set at every level.
Emotional intelligence, trust (to and from team members, leaders, executives, and customers), and a mindfulness mindset—all SMaRT skills—are essential. Your future as a manager depends on your ability to:
- Listen to yourself. Your body is communicating with you, telling you if you are comfortable with change or feeling stressed, overwhelmed, confused, and lost. Your physical and emotional state will communicate itself to your team. When you recognize and meet your own needs, you are better able to recognize and meet the needs of other.
- Listen to other people. Objections are not necessarily obstructions; likewise, agreement is not necessarily acceptance. By continually learning from those around you, you raise your ability to foresee obstacles and risks, remain flexible, and respond creatively.
- Slow down. In the midst of change, everything—the words spoken, the actions taken, the expectations set—speeds up. Take the time to breathe, visualize the future, adjust your priorities, learn to say “no,” delegate, and rest. No one can maintain warp speed.
TIP: The greater prevalence of remote work and the decline of business travel means that your comfort with virtual communications is more important than ever. Distance should never mean “out of sight, out of mind.”
Technology has entered the workplace from so many directions that managers now and in the future need to change processes, projects, and even communications. Basic comfort with technical terms allows you to understand and negotiate with IT experts and vendors, reassure users, and evaluate competing technologies. It also keeps you alert to technologies that could increase productivity, accuracy, and safety, enhance problem-solving, and keep you and your company competitive.
Will technology take over your job completely? One bank executive recently predicted that robots would eventually replace 46% of the bank’s employees. Technology is also driving the move away from brick-and-mortar buildings in retail and reducing the need for human employees. However, as a researcher at Microsoft once stated, “People create the jobs of the future.”
A growth mindset, creative problem solving, and an optimistic outlook will go a long way to helping you and your team embrace future technology and the new opportunities that it will offer. Among the SMaRT skills and strategies that may ease that process:
- Change your perspective. You and your team may find yourselves focusing on the downsides of technology, including the time required to learn it and incorporate it into your existing processes. By changing your perspective, perhaps by observing the technology at work elsewhere, you may discover long-term benefits that outweigh the temporary drawbacks.
- Educate yourself and your team. Build relationships now with technology experts. Learn the language and the basic acronyms (IoT, SaaS, AI, etc.). Take courses. If you struggle to embrace technology yourself, make sure you add an enthusiast to your team and hire for the technology expertise your team will need. Educate your team so that they are savvy about technology and can join you in developing new roles for themselves as technology changes the old ones.
- Foster your creativity. One role that machines will be slow to assume, if ever, is creative thinking and innovation. Computers may mime creativity (and emotional intelligence), but they not programmable. Even artificial intelligence has to begin somewhere—and that’s with the ideas of the human teams who program it, think of new applications, and make unlikely connections.
TIP: Creative insight often begins with rejected ideas that turn out to work wonders in a different context. This is a skill that computers do not have; their context is limited by their programming.
As the world become more tightly intertwined, as minorities and underrepresented groups demand equal opportunity, and as global leadership shifts at different times, managers lead more and more diverse teams, spread across more geographies, and with their own ideas of appropriate behavior, communications, and rewards. At the same time, the workplace has become one of the greatest causes of stress, heightening the need to create a positive environment. Navigating with positivity through differences in age groups, genders, politics, religion, and abilities will require many SMaRT skills and strategies.
Customers have also changed, with the same diversity, dispersal across geographies and cultures, and evolving expectations. They expect clear communications, collaboration, trust, and adaptability just as your team members do—after all, your customers are most probably someone else’s team members!
In those circumstances, influencing and negotiating become increasingly valuable SMaRT skills for managers. Among other SMaRT skills and strategies, nurture your ability to:
- Be flexible. You have to know how to handle conflicts, set expectations, and divide resources, including time and attention, while creating a win-win environment for your team and your customers. Planning is fine, but a flexible attitude will allow you to adjust quickly in line with incoming data and the needs of the people you are working with and serving.
- Find a vision and set a goal. One of the best ways to build, develop, and motivate a team is to find a vision they believe in and set a goals they can act upon. Are you yourself acting in accord with your core values? Is your team enthusiastic about their individual goals; are they courting stress and burnout?
- Celebrate success. One value of milestones is that they can be celebrated when they are reached. Success is hollow if it is merely one step toward another demand. You and your team will flourish in a positive, optimistic atmosphere that says: We’ve come this far, we can certainly go further.
TIP: Research has shown that honest feedback, mutual respect, and openness on a team increases the well-being of each individual by as much as 80%, regardless of industry. Another study found that diversity on a team increases creativity and productivity by as much as 35%.
In the future, communications, technology, and people skills will be essential management skills for dealing with the speed of change, the pressure to adapt quickly to new tools and methods, and the demands of increasingly diverse teams and customers.