Interview with Michel Germain, Associate Professor at CELSA* and Associate Director of Nanterre-based Arctus, a consulting firm specialising in the deployment of digital technologies. Michel Germain has just launched a survey on the impact of digital on the role of management, intended to feed into a forthcoming book on the subject, which will be shared with all those who have contributed to the study. All those interested in taking part in the project have until 26 April to answer the survey.

L'Atelier: What are the main difficulties emerging from the changing role of the manager in the digital era?

Michel Germain: We’re currently living in a period of e-transformation. So we now find two types of manager in companies: people who have been trained for the manager role; and ‘geek’ managers who have been put in these positions because of their expert skills. While the first group may sometimes feel a bit lost when faced with the digitisation of company processes, the second group find it difficult to fit in with an outmoded working environment that has been overtaken by the speed of change and technological development. Because we have to admit – and I see it every day in both major corporates and SMEs, as well as in my own life – companies are still lagging behind when it comes to incorporating new technologies. The initial results of my survey on the impact of technology on management provide proof of this. It’s clear, for example, that managers make far greater use of digital tools at home than they do in the workplace.

L'Atelier: How can you remedy this timelag, which is apparent in all areas of the company?

Michel Germain: I believe we need to make a basic commitment to reconcile ourselves with technology, at every level of the company. Because with the digital revolution, it’s companies that are in the driving seat. And they need to accept the inevitability of what we might call entropy. You know the second law of thermodynamics says that everything tends to degrade eventually, everything will be destroyed. Which means you will then have to rebuild everything. In other words, you will have to break down the existing model and re-construct it. How can they do this? By unifying their working practices, the way they work on a day-to-day basis, how they organise their reporting lines. They need to move from traditional management to ‘blended management’. I think that it’s imperative for companies to go through this transition, to take on board the new approach. And this something that goes way beyond the mere structure of the company.

L'Atelier: What should managers be focusing on during this destruction-rebuilding process?

Michel Germain: They need to keep in mind that the basic issue really has nothing to do with technology. In 2014, management practice won’t be driven by the need to come to terms with the use of the hardware or software; it’ll be much more about ‘peopleware’. Management practices must be oriented to the human aspect. Managers need to apply a consistent approach which makes room for different types of personality and character, but which provides a common basis. And above all, it’s important to bear in mind that the issues go far beyond the company walls. A firm that allows its managers to juggle their time spent in the workplace with teleworking is actually helping to promote technological development, and even helping to safeguard the environment. New practices replace old ones, and provide a way of dealing with the issues we face today.

*CELSA: École des hautes études en sciences de l'information et de la communication (School of advanced studies into information and communication sciences – part of the Sorbonne University, Paris)

By Aurore Geraud