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New World of Work Needs a New Type of Manager


Tue Mar 28 2017

New World of Work Needs a New Type of Manager

Managers have a terrible reputation. In a recent survey, Monster.com found that nearly half of employees rated their boss as “horrible,” and more than 50 percent rated their boss a 1 or 2 on a scale of 1 to 5. Gallup’s State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders noted that nearly half of people who quit their jobs do so to get away from their managers.

You might be tempted to assume that management, as a profession, attracts annoying people. Or perhaps the nature of the role brings out the worst in otherwise kind, generous, and reasonable folks?


There are more than 2 million managers in the United States, according to the latest data. Surely not all of them are horrible people. In fact, among all the managers I have met through training programs, interviewed for articles and books, or worked with throughout my career, not one was actually trying to be a bad boss.

Most managers want to do a great job. But obviously not all of them are succeeding.

OK, you say, maybe it’s their employer’s fault. Maybe they aren’t trained or taught how to manage. U.S. companies spent a staggering $15.5 billion on leadership training in 2013, and that number has been growing every year since. That sounds like a lot, but when we divide it by those 2 million managers, it comes out to just over $7,000 per person.

Clearly the problem isn’t that employers aren’t investing at all, or that the people in management roles don’t care. There’s something else at work here that we need to dig a bit deeper to understand. One of the biggest challenges that managers face is that work, itself, has changed, and the habits and practices they learned about how to lead, from their own managers or even from training programs, is no longer relevant.

The pace of change in our working environments is accelerating, but management strategies aren’t keeping up. Work has changed. It took eons to go from a hunter/gatherer economy to a farming economy, and thousands of years from there to the industrial economy of the 17th and 18th centuries. It took only a few hundred years to transition to the knowledge economy, and now we’re hearing, just decades into that shift, that we’ve moved into something new: a global economy, a social economy, an innovation economy. Whatever you call it, the working world has shifted again.


All of this matters because it has made a lot of people really miserable at work. Each time we go through one of these transitions, it completely changes how people and companies relate to one another, and what makes sense in terms of management practices. A lot of companies are still leading like it’s the industrial economy. They have compensation strategies and work environments that treat people like machines, even though we know that it doesn’t work. And while they are struggling to make the shift to managing creativity and innovation, the world of work is already shifting to a new dynamic.

How do we keep up when these cycles are accelerating? How do we manage a highly social, mobile, creative workforce when we know that all the things that worked, all the things we were taught to do, are totally wrong?

The good news is that we have research and science to help us understand how to adapt to these changes. As the economy becomes more creative and the workforce becomes more diverse and more dispersed, managers need to change how they approach the leadership, training, tools they use to develop emerging end established leaders.

To explore techniques and tools for engaging this diverse, highly mobile workforce, join me at ATD 2017 for the session: The Future of Management.


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