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The New Deal for digital managers in the age of the coronavirus

Le New Deal des managers du numérique à l’ère du coronavirus
Published on
12 May 2021

The health crisis has changed the way we work outside the company walls and new foundations are being laid for management in the era of digitalized work. Managers in the digital sector, HR managers and executives are reexamining the purpose of their roles, and are addressing the triptych of trust, the impact of digital technologies and responsibility.

Interview with Arnaud Tonnelé, Executive coach and organization coach at Kea & Partners, the first B-Corp certified consulting firm. A former professor at GEM, he is the author of several works on team transformation and efficiency. With Cécile Séon, director of the Executive management IS and digital program at GEM, he recently hosted a webinar on the theme: "Trust, impact and awareness: the three-part challenge for digital managers in the age of the coronavirus".

At the height of the health crisis, remote working has shown that most employees have been motivated by working away from their managers. What do you think?

For decades it was thought that if you didn't see people, they didn't do anything. The first lockdown showed that this was not the case, that employees were 100% committed to their team, company and organization. In the companies we support in implementing new forms of work, we have noticed that the real risk was far more over-commitment than under-commitment. It was a real breakthrough for many!

But in the end, it is hardly surprising: individuals disengage from work when they do not have enough independence, when they are infantilized, when they are told in detail what to do and how to do it, and when they spend more time saying what they are doing than doing it. The health crisis swept all that away. We refocused on the essentials: producing and selling. We were forced to leave it up to our employees, and, surprise surprise, they were able to find solutions on their own. "Finally, they let us work!" is probably the phrase we've heard the most.

What is your analysis of the role of managers during the health crisis?

2020 had some nice "hidden gifts" in store for us. Working from home has once again made management and work the focus. When you don't have to come to the office anymore, managers are forced to rethink the way they work together: what do we do together? How do we do it? What is the purpose of our group?

The methods of collective work must be rethought and reinvented. And together: with the team. It is time for discussion, trust and creativity. It doesn't happen by itself. Managers need to be supported in this task.

The health crisis has made it clearer than ever that the old managerial models are outdated, unsuited to today's world and today's expectations. Every day in their personal lives, employees are educated, informed and independent. Yet, once they walk through the door of their company, they are told: "You will do as you are told." Inevitably, this is a problem.

The worst thing that can happen to an organization is that its employees do what it expects. Because then, it's goodbye to commitment, creativity, flexibility and innovation. We put a lot of energy into recruiting smart people, and once they're recruited, we want them to leave their intelligence at home. In a predictable and planned world, it's good to have people who accomplish tasks. In today's VUCA world, this is potentially deadly.

What is the use of a manager, if they are no longer there to control?

It's very simple: they are there to manage! And management is not control. We only control people we do not trust or who are not competent. In both cases, the ball is in the manager's court: either to create or recreate the conditions of trust, or to increase the level of competence amongst employees. The role of the manager in developing the skills of their employees has been somewhat forgotten in recent decades. Management means taking care of your employees: listening to them, checking in with them, helping them, giving them the means they need, encouraging them and supporting them. This is a far cry from weekly monitoring and reporting. 

This crisis has also reset priorities, albeit a little abruptly, by upsetting the usual hierarchy of jobs. This crisis has shown that many jobs (including mine) can be shut down, and that the vital functions of the country do not stop. This is what David Graeber tried to show with his notion of bullshit jobs. Lockdowns have shown that jobs at the bottom of the income scale are infinitely more useful than many others that fill head offices. 

The brutality of the health crisis - which will most likely be followed by others - has also shown the futility of forecasting activities. In this regard, I cannot refer enough to the work of Nassim Taleb, a former trader, who invented the notion of "black swans", i.e. highly improbable events with incalculable consequences. Our companies focus their energy on what is predictable, and neglect the improbable. This is an error in reasoning with tragic consequences: it is highly probably that unlikely events will happen. We must be prepared for them. But this implies looking a little further ahead than the next quarter and, above all, thinking with other mind-sets. 

This crisis has also given us a taste of two virtues that we had forgotten - in the West at least - for a long time: humility and patience. This too is a hidden gift of the health crisis.

We are still in a state of crisis. What do you recommend to IS managers?

The first recommendation: reconsider their schedules, incorporating longer decision times.  Decisions are never, ever made as quickly as the project managers' schedules anticipate. French speakers talk about "taking a decision".  Anglo-Saxons use the term "to make a decision". A decision is made, worked on and developed. A lot of stress in projects comes from underestimating the time it takes for decisions to come to fruition. As a result, we are always late. Human beings are not machines which data can be entered into to make decisions.

The second recommendation: learn. I am always surprised at how little feedback is used. We learn in all areas of social life ; we don't, however, learn very much, or at least not enough, about business. The same mistakes are made 1,000 times and the same procedures are repeated 1,000 times, even when we see that they don't work. It's silly. Stupidity is the error that persists, as Bruno Jarrosson would say. That's what my latest book, Comment réussir à échouer plus vite et plus efficacement (How to Fail Faster and More Effectively), is all about. It's a shame, for everyone.

The third recommendation: Leave the tools in their place. I know that this will not necessarily please IS experts, but tools must not go beyond their status as tools, i.e. the means to achieve something. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening: humans are having to adapt to tools, not the other way around. The goal of computers was to liberate humans. But what are we witnessing? People who spend more time trying to understand their new software than taking care of the customer - I am sure that every one of you has heard the phrase "we changed the software" in the last 12 months.  It's a source of frustration for everyone.

The race for data is another area where common sense is being lost. We try to store as much data as possible, in case we miss some. For the record, on September 11, 2001, 19 men, 4 planes and 1 hour of time managed to bring the most tech-equipped country in the world to its knees. The challenge today is not to store, but to select and locate relevant information. We are overwhelmed with information, but we lack intelligence. One only has to look at the difficulty we have in addressing the major issues of our time. We need people who think, not just algorithms that reason in "if... then...". And thinking means making connections that have never been made before between things, events and timings. It requires human sciences and general culture, not just technical knowledge. Higher education institutions should get on board with this.

According to you, IS managers in particular have certain responsibilities. What are they?

When you have power, you have responsibility, and tech experts have power. As power increases, the level of awareness must increase. Thus, it is not technology that should dictate what we do, but we as humans must do this.  What is the purpose of what I do? What is the meaning of my work? What will be its scope? Does my work lead to improvements, or not? You can't just say to yourself: I'm making an application or a software and I don't care what it's going to be used for. That's not a tenable position anymore. Everyone must take responsibility for what they do and consider the consequences of their work.

"Science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul", wrote Rabelais. Today, the challenge is to increase the level of awareness among IS managers with regard to the new societal perspectives and the upheavals caused by the crises. Today's crisis and those that will follow must be opportunities to rethink what we do and how we do it.

 « Science sans conscience n'est que ruine de l'âme », écrivait Rabelais. Aujourd'hui, l'enjeu est d'accroître le niveau de conscience des managers des SI au regard des nouvelles perspectives sociétales et des bouleversements induites par les crises. Celle d'aujourd'hui comme celles qui lui succèderont doivent être des opportunités de repenser ce que l'on fait et comment on le fait.

Latest work published by Arnaud Tonnelé : Comment réussir à se planter plus vite et plus efficacement, Eyrolles, 2020.

Training Program - Executive IS Manager: a dual managerial and technical skill

The Executive Manager of Information Systems and Digital Training Programallows students to acquire dual managerial and technological skills in the field of corporate information systems.
Supported by a dynamic, recognized industry and sponsored by major companies, this program provides access to three chosen professions: CIO, expert consultant in IS management and IS project manager.
The innovative education program, taught at the GEM Labs campus in Grenoble, is aimed at candidates with a minimum of two years of higher education (or equivalent) and four years of significant professional experience in the field of information systems and digital technology, and via the VAE. The course, equivalent to 5 years of higher education, leads to a level 7 qualification, Information Systems and Digital Manager, registered in the National Directory of Professional Certifications (RNCP).
The courses are delivered in French by renowned speakers (20% GEM professors and researchers - 80% professional practitioners), and are based on theoretical and practical learning, directly related to the reality of the market, and based on real business cases (integrative projects). The benefits of the course allow you to: 

  • Supervise information system projects and support business units in their digital transformation
  • Develop and manage an information systems strategy and establish its governance;
  • Manage people and multidisciplinary information systems teams;
  • Manage information security and monitoring;
  • Implement the information systems purchasing policy, as well as a responsible policy for the company's digital activities.

Duration and format of the program, compatible with a professional position

Part-time: 38 face-to-face days spread over 12 months - 1 5-day session in January, then 11 3-day sessions (Thursday, Friday, Saturday) in the following months, for a total of 294 hours. Next session: January 17, 2022.

Cécile Séon is in charge of the Executive IS Manager course at GEM, and is also a senior consultant on IT-MDM-ERP integration projects in relation with companies. With 25 years of experience in IT program management, Cécile Séon has moved from finance to IT, from operational functions to management functions in industry, IT services and education. As a result-oriented consultant and manager, she has worked as an ERP expert, project and program manager, and director of IT training departments in the energy, automotive and outdoor sectors.

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    Co-creating new services and products with customers enables companies to better match customer expectations and increase the success of their offers. With the advent of digital technology, the co-creation process has become all the more accessible...

  • Published on 25 March 2019

    Digital jobs: leading by example

    With two women in charge of its big data and information systems programs, Grenoble Ecole de Management seeks to lead by example and help break down barriers to women in the digital sector.

  • Les femmes et les métiers du numérique
    Published on 25 February 2019

    Women in a digital world

    The Grenoble Business Review continues its series on women in the digital world. We speak with Charlotte and Jalila, both of whom entered and found their place in a digital world often perceived as being open only to men.

  • Federico Pigni a propos de Digital Twins dans une interview accordée au canal Xerfi.
    Published on 14 February 2019

    Why are Digital Twins becoming a business imperative?

    What are these custom and very specific types of virtual simulations and how can they open up a multitude of new opportunities for us?

  • Published on 24 January 2019

    Women and digital jobs: a love-hate affaire?

    The digital sector is booming, yet only 16% of technical jobs are filled by women. As a recent graduate of GEM’s Advanced Master’s in Big Data, Zineb Bennis shares her positive experience in the world of data science.

  • les fondamentaux pour bien gérer son marketing personnel.
    Published on 12 July 2018

    The fundamentals of personal marketing

    Successful personal marketing is an art. How can you go beyond compulsive tweeting or an excessive use of social networks in order to create a solid strategy to build and maintain your e-reputation?

  • Chirag Patel et Christophe Haon
    Published on 18 May 2018

    Research: Retail Website Performance, to Outsource or not to Outsource?

    To improve sales, retail websites focus on personalizing their web pages and increasing their influence on social networks. To achieve these goals, should they rely on internal resources or call on external service providers? A study of 105 U.S....

  • Pourquoi les DRH doivent-elles se saisir du digital ?
    Published on 26 March 2018

    Why Is the Digital Revolution Essential for HR?

    The digital revolution is impacting all areas of business. While HR are particularly affected by this change, it’s an opportunity for them to focus their efforts on the “employee experience”.

  • paiement mobile
    Published on 26 March 2018

    How to Encourage User Adoption of Mobile Payment Options?

    Despite the convenience of mobile payment technology, customer adoption of this new technology is not a given. How can companies build on previous internet experience to facilitate this transition?

  • Must the U.S. Lead the Digital Revolution?
    Published on 22 February 2018

    Must the U.S. Lead the Digital Revolution?

    As the digital revolution unfolds, the U.S. and Silicon Valley have so far led the march. What role can Europe play in this major evolution?

  • Published on 18 January 2018

    Technology Sourcing: How to Optimize Web Performance?

    To increase the performance of retail websites, companies should explore both internal tech development and outsourced tech services. New research confirms the advantage of mixing technology sources.

  • Les conditions licites de la cybersurveillance du salarié
    Published on 25 January 2018

    Workplace Cyber Surveillance: Rights and Obligations

    Can a business spy on its employees? Yes, within certain limits. Discover how European courts regulate workplace cyber surveillance.

  • Les conditions licites de la cybersurveillance du salarié
    Published on 25 January 2018

    Cybersurveillance : Quels droits et obligations pour l’employeur (et réciproquement) ?

    La Cour européenne des droits de l’homme impose des limites au contrôle des communications électroniques par l’employeur, qui reste régi par chaque Etat membre.

  • Caroline Cuny, GEM
    Published on 14 December 2017

    Going Digital to Improve In-Store Customer Relations

    How can digital technology help companies improve a customer’s shopping experience? We look at emerging trends such as artificial intelligence, facial recognition and olfactive marketing.

  • Published on 17 June 2017

    Nanovalor: a Platform to Evaluate the Value of New Tech

    Emerging technology can impact society and the economy in a variety of ways. Nanovalor creates a platform to analyze and learn about the value of new tech.

  • Une quarantaine de collaborateurs Ubisoft en France sont issus de Grenoble Ecole de Management
    Published on 15 May 2017

    Recruitment: How Does Ubisoft Rely on Its Alumni Employees?

    Alumni from various schools can be a precious asset for companies to build connections with potential recruits.

  • Cybersécurité : prévenir les risques spécifiques aux TPE/PME
    Published on 17 May 2017

    Cybersecurity: the Challenge for SMEs

    SMEs are a prime target for cybercriminals. Training remains the best defense against such threats.

  • research on Contextual Television Advertising
    Published on 28 February 2017

    Research: Questioning the Effectiveness of Contextual Television Advertising

    As businesses and marketing go digital, companies have to track the effectiveness of their advertising across many channels. The growth of online transactions has made website conversions an essential factor for many businesses. Thanks to detailed...

  • research on Contextual Television Advertising
    Published on 28 February 2017

    Recherche : Quelle efficacité pour la publicité contextuelle à la télévision ?

    Du fait de la digitalisation de leurs activités économiques et marketing, les entreprises se préoccupent de plus en plus de l’efficacité de leurs campagnes publicitaires. Le taux de conversion, mesuré comme le nombre de transactions en ligne par...

  • Comment se prémunir de l’infobésité
    Published on 10 January 2017

    How to Avoid an Information Overload?

    You cannot multi-task. Prioritizing is the key to efficiency.

  • Comment se prémunir de l’infobésité
    Published on 10 January 2017

    Infobésité : comment s'en prémunir ?

    La surcharge d’informations numériques appauvrit notre mental, nous exposant au burnout. La chaire des Talents de la transformation digitale édite un guide de bonnes pratiques

  • Published on 13 September 2016

    Dans les entrailles de Pokémon Go

    De l’utilisation abusive des datas collectées à la constitution d’un algorithme capable de prédire le comportement des utilisateurs, Nathalie Devillier met en lumière l’opacité de l’application Pokémon Go. Une technologie qui attise les...

  • Federico Pigni, Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management
    Published on 01 July 2016

    Research: Creating Value from Digital Data Streams

    The big data era is upon us. Startups, major companies, organizations and governments are all rushing to extract essential insights from big data. Yet in doing so, many have overlooked the potential value of the digital data streams (DDS) that make...

  • Federico Pigni, Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management
    Published on 01 July 2016

    Recherche : Le big data temps réel, une nouvelle source de création de valeur

    Enregistrés et analysés en quasi temps réel grâce aux progrès de la technologie, les flux de données du big data donnent naissance à de nouveaux services créateurs de valeur. Une étude portant sur 171 initiatives du monde entier décrypte la logique...

  • Published on 30 June 2016

    Joining the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

    Grenoble Ecole de Management becomes the first Business School in the world, and the first higher education institution in France to join the prestigious International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency based in...

  • websites such as TripAdvisor have given consumers the power to impact a company's image.
    Published on 22 March 2016

    TripAdvisor: How Companies React to Negative Ratings

    The world wide web has revolutionized the hotel, restaurant and other travel-related industries. From online bookings to customer ratings, companies have to learn how to operate in this new environment. While an organization's market identity used...

  • websites such as TripAdvisor have given consumers the power to impact a company's image.
    Published on 22 March 2016

    Recherche : TripAdvisor ou l’irrépressible montée du pouvoir des consommateurs

    A travers TripAdvisor, les clients ont une influence croissante sur la réputation des hôtels et ces derniers répondent de plus en plus aux avis défavorables. C'est ce que montre une étude menée entre 2002 et 2012 sur les avis des clients de 600...

  • Research: Creating Visitor Engagement Through Music
    Published on 29 February 2016

    Research: Creating Visitor Engagement Through Music

    Digital communications have created an information overload for customers. To stand out on the world wide web, companies have to offer clients a high-impact experience. When used properly, music provides a simple yet effective means of creating a...

  • -	Projet CHESS – Connected Health Early Stage Researcher Support System
    Published on 08 September 2015

    Connected Health: the New Health Management Models

    Save lives and improve quality of living during and after treatment in the most cost-effective way: the promises of connected health are opening encouraging horizons for the future of healthcare systems. Connected health will contribute to creating...

  • -	Projet CHESS – Connected Health Early Stage Researcher Support System
    Published on 08 September 2015

    Santé connectée : les nouveaux modèles de management de la santé

    Sauver des vies, améliorer la qualité de vie pendant et après le traitement, le tout au meilleur prix : les promesses de la santé connectée ouvrent des horizons encourageants pour l’avenir des systèmes de santé. Elle contribuera à créer un...