Can We Please Stop Managing People?

Michael Dortch
4 min readDec 9, 2020
Source: Adobe Stock

Here’s a modestly radical idea for getting the most from — and providing the most support for — the people you work with, wherever you work.

Stop trying to manage them.

What You Should Be Managing

“Management,” at least as most often traditionally defined, is great for many business assets, resources, and processes. However, people aren’t any of those things.

Great managers don’t focus on managing people as if they were interchangeable assets. Great managers focus on managing goals, processes, and tasks. And on doing so in ways that treat humans as — well, humans.

Great managers engage the best people by optimizing goals, processes, and tasks related to recruiting, screening, hiring, compensation, retention, and career development. In this context, “human resources management” isn’t about managing humans as corporate resources. It’s about managing the resources that make consistently effective recruiting, retention, and development efforts possible.

Great managers get great work out of great people by optimizing goals, processes, and tasks related to determining what get done when and by whom. Those great managers also make sure to participate in and contribute to the goals, processes, and tools used to select, implement, manage, evaluate, modify, and replace the tools and systems their teams use to do their work.

Why This Matters

Perhaps most important, great managers strive to focus their efforts on the tasks and metrics that guide and drive the business. The pandemic has created both the opportunity and the need for many organizations to reassess what they’ve been measuring to determine business performance. More workers at more organizations are working from more places. Effective work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) initiatives focus more on the results of workers’ efforts and less on things like the number of hours they work each day.

The best business decisions are driven by meaningful, credible data, metrics, and measurable outcomes. These are much easier to achieve with a steady focus on goals, processes, and tasks than with a focus on specific human actions or behaviors. And those measurable outcomes can improve accountability and increase transparency, significant business benefits, whether your business is large, small, for-profit, or non-profit.

Why This Matters Now

HFS Research is one of the most reputable and respected research firms focused on business operations and information technology (IT) services. The firm conducts more than 5,000 interviews with Global 2000 decision makers annually. (Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of the firm and its principals. And its principles.)

Earlier this month, HFS published “HFS Vision 2025: The New Dawn to Becoming a OneOffice Organization.” Here’s how CEO and Chief Analyst Phil Fersht sees the coming year as pivotal to realization of that vision. “2021 will see the emergence of a business environment where data dominates business strategy and automation becomes a native competency, ensuring processes run effectively in the cloud to achieve business outcomes that drive growth. AI [artificial intelligence] will emerge as an orchestration capability across these fluid processes as effective digital businesses deliver their products and services much faster, cheaper, and more competitively.”

It is critical to realize that Phil is not just talking about or to large, well-funded commercial enterprises here. Cloud computing is already making sophisticated early-stage AI-powered business tools accessible and affordable for companies beyond the Global 2000. This is a trend that will accelerate in 2021 and beyond. Which is a good thing. Because even small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) and non-profits suffer from operational silos and broken, outdated, poorly managed processes and tools.

Beyond technologies, however, 2020 has forced significant shifts in points of view among business decision makers of all types in all industries. Saurabh Gupta, HFS Chief Research Officer, put it this way. “What we’ve experienced — inside of a single year — is the coming together of people to confront their fear of change [and] to face the reality that their organization will sink without it. As an organization you have no choice but to embrace the emerging business world. The choice you do have is how to do it.”

I submit that for many if not most organizations, that “how” begins with rethinking some basic concepts, such as what “management” means and what it should really focus on. And that effective management should apply to workers the same perspectives and priorities it attempts to apply to making and keeping customers happy.

In other words, stop trying to manage those workers. Focus instead on enabling, encouraging, and supporting them, and on continuous improvement of alignment of their work with business goals. This approach will also improve their job satisfaction and provide career development opportunities, which will improve retention, recruiting, and perceptions of the organization.

Check out HFS Vision 2025 for more great insights from HFS Research. Then, begin identifying opportunities at your organization to modify and improve management of the goals, processes, and tasks that drive its success, with its customers and its workers.



Michael Dortch

Translator of Bits & Bytes into Dollars & Sense. Ex-Trustero, Ex-Huawei USA, Ex-Ivanti, Ex-ServiceNow,… / @DortchOnIT