It’s always been hard to manage people. It is much harder today than ever before and it’s getting harder every day.
Over the years, our Generational Shift study has repeatedly taken us back to the undermanagement epidemic. That’s because undermanagement is almost always there, hiding in plain sight. Our ongoing research shows that undermanagement is a perennial issue: The remarkably consistent data shows that nine out of ten managers fail to maintain an ongoing one-on-one dialogue sufficient to deliver on the “the fundamentals.”
It’s always been hard to manage people. It is much harder today than ever before and it’s getting harder every day. Why? The causes of the undermanagement epidemic dovetail very much with the trend lines of the Great Generational Shift. Let’s start with globalization and technology. The pace of change is accelerating for everyone all the time – from the macro level all the way down to the micro. In today’s knowledge-driven, machine-powered, highly interconnected, fiercely competitive global marketplace, everything is complex, fast-moving, and always in flux. Work that used to take weeks takes moments. Relationships that would have been nearly impossible due to geography are now taken for granted. Communication and travel are nearly instantaneous.
Yet we are also vulnerable in entirely new ways. One technical glitch today can slow down your operation for days or weeks at a time – not just in your own physical location, but in locations with contractors and vendors to whom you might be connected, all over the world. An earthquake on the other side of the world today – actual or metaphorical – could affect you today in ways you probably cannot even imagine, including ways that didn’t exist yesterday. Not to mention the effects these factors could have on your customers, vendors, contractors, partners, colleagues, and counterparts in other departments and workgroups.
Everybody is under more pressure. The corporate order of the day is to run ever more lean and flexible. Squeeze more and more productivity and quality out of tightly controlled resources. Chase innovation and technology to keep from falling behind. Manage talent as a capital (depreciating) asset, in the wake of a profound transformation in the fundamental employer-employee relationship. After decades of constant downsizing, restructuring, and reengineering, employees no longer expect to pay their dues and climb the corporate ladder.
Job security has been dead for some time now. The default presumption of long-term hierarchical employment relationships has been replaced by a new presumptive career path built on a growing portfolio of short-term transactional employment relationships of varying scope and duration.
Never forget that most employees work because they must. They work to support themselves and their families. Most are pursuing some kind of intermediate and longer-term security, but today that plan is rarely contingent upon a long-term relationship with one particular employer. Very few employees now look at one employer as a primary source of their long-term career security, much less their long-term economic security.
The promise (implied or even explicit) of long-term vesting rewards from employers is no longer enough to get employees to perform today. Employees are less willing to follow orders, work harder, and contribute their best today in exchange for vague promises about what they might get in five years or ten years. Who knows where they’ll be in five or ten years? There is simply too much uncertainty.
Employees today want to know, “What do you want from me today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year? And what do you have to offer me in return today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year?”
Need tips for managing the newest new young workforce? Listen to my interview on the Nobody Told Me! podcast for my best practices.