A gigantic structure with imposing machines with articulated arms. No words, but screeching, ringing and thuds. Suddenly, everything stops. Break time? Not at all. Like a horde, other machines come to help out one that has emitted a shrill cry, like a howl. Everything then stopped. Then everything starts again. It is the factory of the future where there is no longer any question of office, schedules, coffee machine. Without human. Yes, there is one, far away, behind thousands of screens, somewhere in the galaxy. Chilling reality of a science fiction with accents of the present: warehouses with forklift drivers, whose tasks are prescribed in real time by an algorithm and interaction by voice command. Helmeted employees, inserted into a digital system, robotized in a device that isolates them. The voice command algorithm does not know how to interpret “hello”. So, we reassure ourselves with another vision of the future drawn by guru Tony Hsieh, co-founder of the Zappos shoe sales platform. He dreams of an ideal collaborative work, between happy employees, without a boss, without procedure, which he described in his manifesto The Business of Happiness (Leduc, 2011). Imagine our possessions, a brotherhood of man. The visionary is dead in 2020, defeated by his demons.
Animate more than command
This “fable of the end of managers” persists. Only one in ten French people aspires to be a manager and above all 38% of managers believe that their job will disappear within 5 to 10 years (Ipsos and BCG, 2019). For François Coulomb, agrégé in economics, “observers and practitioners agree that the traditional form of management of the ‘Demand & Control’ type is obsolete and that it will be replaced by ‘Share & develop'”. Replace the spirit of directive and normative management with participatory management. The author of Business management ; history, theory and management tools (Ellipses, 2007) believes that these managers will have to animate more than order, favor trust – in contrast to the mistrust that presides over many hierarchical relationships – and restore meaning to work. Do not forget to systematically integrate CSR objectives [responsabilité sociétale des entreprises], “which should reduce the diktat of the usual quantitative and financial indicators”. Moreover, “in a world that requires cross-cutting and multiple skills, no one, including the manager, has all the skills required: he is no longer a knower, but a learner alongside the others.” In summary, putting quality into generally quantitative practices, leaving room for the emotional after decades when the rational ruled supreme, favoring negotiation, coordination and co-construction instead of command and substituting partnership for traditional subordination. Not everywhere: “tomorrow, there will still be a large number of companies where it will be relevant to have a descending, organized, post-Taylorian manager”, predicts Frédéric Petitbon, partner at PwC Consulting.
Automation requires more support
But what about Industry 4.0? “These technologies are generally grafted onto the digital tools in place, such as integrated management software packages. The real revolution has been the deployment of these software packages, which have enabled a very high level of integration of flows in supply chains. and in factories with a very high level of control of activities by the digital tool”, answers Thomas Reverdy, director of studies at Grenoble-INP Génie Industriel, university professor in industrial sociology. “You have to think in terms of transforming the work of people on this chain. The work is more sophisticated, more complex, people are more interdependent and there is a new visibility. This new organization requires more skills and heterogeneous skills” , says the author of The Project Management Antimanual: Dealing with Uncertainties (Dunot, 2021). As automation progresses, human work becomes more complex and requires greater managerial support. Tomorrow the manager will still be there and say “hello”.
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Tomorrow, will machines and artificial intelligence replace managers?
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