How to employ data to empower, not replace, your managers
Asha Saxena
May 27, 2015

People love to joke that robots are going to someday steal our jobs.

Don’t panic -- nobody is being replaced just yet. You can put down your stapler.

But don’t relax, either. Because it's time to revolutionize the way middle management utilizes Big Data.

The role of data collection and analysis commonly falls on the shoulders of middle managers. Given our increasing reliance on data, many business decisions are only made if they can be supported by data. This raises an interesting question: Do we still need middle management if Big Data is making all of their decisions for them?

My answer: Yes and no. Big Data should replace some traditional management positions and help to evolve the roles of the remaining ones.

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For example, Tom Montgomery, co-CEO of clothing brand Chubbies, explained that traditional marketing events were developed by managers who thought about the "why" behind their companies’ events — and an associate would make the "how" work. Today, Montgomery’s event planner can use her dashboards to track the sales and social media response from any given event, which allows her to make the call on not only how future events are held, but why. She doesn’t need a manager to validate her choices -- she has data.

Companies that use big data analytics are two times more likely to have top-quartile financial performance and five times more likely to make decisions “much faster” than the competition. If you’re not in this group, it’s time to start the evolution today.

Evolving middle management

It’s important to remember that this is not an all-or-nothing situation. This isn’t about replacing humans; it’s about redefining job descriptions. Big Data and your evolved middle manager positions should happily and productively coexist.

Data analysis tools have become so efficient that managers can access real-time data and take informed action immediately. This means our evolved manager can be inventive and focused on the future.

You should gradually bring together your data scientists, managers, and data tools to meet your unique business needs. You need to have a clear strategy so you can introduce this evolution without terrifying your team. Here are four tips to help:

1. Identify (and reap) the benefits. Replacing some middle manager roles with Big Data tools will shift your company’s mindset. It will free up time for your employees to focus on interpreting data to drive innovation. Big Data will make your company leaner and give you more bang for your salary buck.

2. Keep your employees in the loop. Some of your employees might feel uneasy when they learn their roles are going to change. You need to clearly explain how their jobs will be affected, what new opportunities they’ll have, and what tasks they’ll no longer need to complete. Be as transparent as you can and remind them that you are there to help ease the transition.

3. Research your tools. You have endless options to consider when developing your management structure. You’ll need to spend a lot of time plotting your infrastructure, identifying what you want your data to accomplish, and matching the capabilities of each tool to these needs. At the very least, your wish list should include data visualization, real-time collection and the ability to customize interdepartmentally.

4. Create a collaborative model. The only way that Big Data can effectively help you manage your company is if it’s incorporated into your employees’ roles. You can’t just leave it alone and hope it produces insights. There is still a necessary human element to the proper utilization of data.

Go ahead and follow the Big Data trend. Trim the extra manager positions, but remember that you still need humans to steer the ship. Evolving your business to incorporate this deep level of data will empower your employees and put you in line with the most successful names in the industry.

No robots in sight -- yet.

Asha Saxena is the president and CEO of Future Technologies Inc., a data management and analytics firm based in Plainfield, N.J. Contact Saxena to have her speak at your next event or conference.

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