Companies are changing the way they source labor and find talent in the digital economy. But should the digital economy change how companies manage? In this installment of the EIU Digital Economy podcast, Gavin Gollogley, head of digital, Asia, for Canadian insurer Sun Life Financial; Marina Chan, director of education at the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node; and Sui Yang Phang, managing partner for Hong Kong at Nest, discussed the implications of a changing workforce and the skills managers will need to be effective.

‘Think like a pirate’ – and more tips for digital-age managers

The digital economy has changed when, where and how we work. It’s also transforming the way we manage teams. Today’s workforce is more interested in new experiences, not the same old, same old. It’s motivated more by values and purpose and less by traditional measures of advancement such as position or salary. For that reason, Nest’s Sui Yang Phang says management styles must evolve and shift as well. Managers need to invest in relationships with young workers. “As we move toward values-based careers, [managers] need to understand what drives a person innately.”

Gavin Gollogley believes that effective managers must also fully understand the impact of digital transformation and its effect on corporate culture. “Sun Life is 100-plus years old and has managers who are 30-, 40-year insurance veterans. So how do we take their knowledge and their experience, but also apply digital to that to accelerate our journey? It’s hard to enable [a team] if you don’t really understand,” he says.

Marina Chan says managers still play a key role in fostering healthy team dynamics by establishing clear roles and responsibilities. But they can do more than simply give directions. “Managers today would be great in a facilitation role where they are community builders and effectively cheerleaders to help their team progress toward innovation,” Chan says.

Internalizing and modeling entrepreneurial characteristics is critical, too. “When we teach entrepreneurship, we tell our students it’s about building up the skills of a Navy SEAL but having that spirit of a pirate,” she says. “You’re venturing into new territories, bringing along your team to push the frontiers. Being able to wear that hat as captain of the pirate ship is vital, and I think having managers adopt that type of mindset would benefit the teams that are working with them.”

“I think management’s role is almost to create a movement,” Gollogley says. “It’s to bring people on this change journey and understand that it’s not just digital transformation, it’s business transformation. It’s good for the client, it’s good for the organization and it’s actually truly good for the individual.”

Yang Phang says managers should adopt a collaborative approach to decision making. “No one is going to be the expert at knowing what to do in any one particular case. It’s not possible. Things move too quickly, and things are always new,” he says. That’s largely because the digital economy has flipped the script on the traditional approach of managing for efficiency at the expense of innovation.

“What we strongly believe is that managers, and especially senior managers, [must] lead from the front and explicitly say: ‘If we don’t try, this is never going to work,’ and, as a corollary to that, ‘If we fail sometimes, it’s okay,’“ Yang Phang says. “This notion that failure is not an option goes out the window. Failure, nowadays, is a necessity.”


Read a full transcript of the podcast here.