By Agathe Allué and Romuald Prader, MSc in Business Strategy & Consulting students at Audencia.
Management can only be caring. The expression caring management should be a pleonasm: to give the best of oneself, a person would need empathy and recognition.
This is the diagnosis made by Doctor Philippe Rodet. He explains scientifically that humans are regulated by their emotions, which are at the heart of all their activities. We must therefore take care of them to obtain results. It is as simple as that. We could very well stick to this statement, take it as a scientific discovery. We could tell ourselves that caring management is not an innovation, a managerial “technique” in the process of proving itself, but rather the logical continuity of a modern society that places humans at the heart of its concerns, and therefore any other form of management is to be proscribed.
Is this what is at stake? Is caring management the ideal to reach so that all employees can be happy to go to work and perform well? Isn’t that a bit utopian?
Caring management: a fashion or an ideal?
Caring management is a very popular managerial technique that consists in boosting employee commitment in a positive way, i.e., by reducing their stress. Therefore, managers give meaning to the work of their employees through the behavior they adopt with them. Empathy, trust, recognition and closeness are some synonyms. It is a kind of “soft” management that would directly increase the productive capacity of individuals. Management that rhymes with happiness.
To find out more about the reality of this trend within a consulting firm, we spoke to Lucas Gentric, manager at HumanCraft, who told us about his experience at SII, an IT consulting firm where he managed up to 60 consultants.
When we asked Lucas if he applied caring management, he rather agreed with Rodet’s theory: there is no other way to manage than in a benevolent way. For him, the need to give his teams autonomy, to trust them, goes without saying. He never really thought of it. He stuck to the definition of caring management without applying any method. For him, it is simply human management. He thinks the expression “caring management” is above all a fashion, a marketing image used by consulting firms to attract talent. Indeed, what could be better than a firm that promises us money and happiness? “They lived happily ever after and had a lot of money”. A nice fairy tale.
Caring management, a matter of subjectivity, an elusive variable
For Lucas, it is a reality he calls proximity management: not in the sense of surveillance or micro-management but in the sense of “being available”. The manager then appears as someone who works for their colleagues, so that projects go well. Someone who contributes to the final purpose. A sort of capitalist Jesus.
This type of management is based solely on human interaction between the manager and their team. It is a variable, an unsure factor that can fluctuate according to different parameters that are difficult to control - such as the mood of the manager or their personality. It is a subjective dimension that will depend not only on the personality of the manager, but also on the mindset and cerebral constitution of the consultants (the term caring can cover different realities). Isn’t it a bit too dangerous to base the economic sustainability of a company on such an unpredictable and intangible management? Should we see caring management as a bonus, or is it part of a real corporate culture?
The personality of the manager is partly innate, but the mood of the manager can vary depending on the structure in which they evolve.
A link between size and care?
Lucas says it well, if his management is of a kind and gentle nature, it is because the structure of the companies where he worked allowed him to do so. This type of management is often not compatible with certain consulting firms motivated above all by numbers. Lucas mentions a large headhunting firm that has reached such a size that they are in a race for results, no matter who succeeds or fails. When you are in this logic, there can no longer be any benevolence on a large scale. From a managerial point of view, it’s a war. It’s up to you to manage, if you are a good element great, if you are not a good element, we make you understand it and you are pressurized.
Are a large firm and caring management incompatible?
More broadly, should a firm, in order to make money, at some point forget about the well-being of its employees?
As consulting firms evolve in an increasingly competitive market, is caring management doomed to disappear?
We have to distinguish between the size of a company and its structure. There are two ways to make money, either through volume (which guarantees rapid growth but not sustainability), or through quality of service. In the second case, growth is slower, but cleverer, that is to say more perennial and structured in time. Consultants offer fewer but more qualitative services. Caring management is therefore directly linked to size but is not necessarily subject to it. I’ve known small companies that have a logic of going super-fast. As soon as you are in this perspective, you leave care aside.
A sweetness that can burn: a fragile balance to maintain
Caring management often implies being on first-name terms (familiar with one another), sympathy, kindness and gentleness, which can easily be mistaken for friendship. Relationships are more relaxed, which maintains a blurred ambivalence between professional and private relationships. Each consultant is emotionally invested in their work and in their relationships, which makes each reproach all the more personal and hurtful. It becomes difficult to take a step back. Privileging affect can create certain drifts: some consultants will feel excluded from the group, a little like children in the playground.
In the end, everything will depend on the manager, the keystone of the team. Hence the importance of training them as well as possible.
In the end, every consultant firm may have to get on board with it
Caring management is increasingly becoming a standard in consulting firms, or rather an obligation. Attracting talent is becoming more and more difficult because of the tight market (especially in IT); you have to know how to keep it, and salary is no longer a sufficient argument.
This reflection causes us to rethink the world of consulting, which is often a precursor of all trends in terms of management, as it sets an example. A trend in the making is that of the liberated company, where each employee is free to occupy the place he or she wishes and thus build the DNA of the company.