There was a time in my career where a lot of emphasis was put on “climbing the career ladder.” The goal was to get to the top of the pyramid. Some organizations went through an elaborate exercise to lay out the series of jobs one needed to progress through to reach that ultimate “C Suite” destination. Younger workers believed that careers were very fragile and making the “right” moves was critical to your success in achieving your ultimate goal.
Today, career ladders don’t exist; in many cases, it is a series of experiences or assignments that give you a set of skills to prepare you for jobs at a higher level in an organization. In fact, there seems to be a growing trend among younger workers, most of them millennials, to avoid management jobs altogether. But if management jobs are not coveted, what implications does this have for organizations?
Back in the 1950s, Alfred Sloan introduced the idea of a workplace hierarchy and that a manager’s span of control should reasonably include five to seven workers. That was the accepted practice for many years until guys like Jack Welch came along in the 1970s and said the overhead cost of this many managers was not sustainable, and that managers didn’t have enough to do and ended up getting in the way. Welch suggested that a more appropriate span of control should be 15 to 20 workers to one manager. This forced a lot of assumptions to be questioned and certainly changed the things a manager did.
Here we are in 2015 and most people would agree that “some number of workers” – even if they’re not sure what that number is – need supervision. Someone needs to provide direction, and at least be the tie-breaker on a decision. If according to a September 2014 Harvard Business Review article on a CareerBuilder survey that found most people don’t want to be managers, what does this mean for how organizations will be organized and run in the future?
Let’s dive a little deeper into the CareerBuilder survey to understand the data and its implications. Specifically, the survey indicated that of the 3,625 people who responded, 34 percent said they were interested in a management position. Of this group, only 29 percent of women were interested in leadership roles. Of African Americans, 40 percent, or a little bit higher than the overall, were interested in a management role. The study also allowed respondents to self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LBGT). Of the LBGT group, 44 percent were interested in management positions. So this gives us a breakdown of respondents by gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. What are the issues underlying the pool of potential managers?
At a high level, the reasons range from generational issues, to being happy as an individual contributor, to not wanting to sacrifice a work-life balance. On another level, individual contributors see that the role of manager requires one to balance the conflicting interests of the worker and the corporation. In some organizations, moving from being a worker to being a manager means a cut in pay. Management is salaried and not entitled to overtime. So the worker thinks, “You want me to become a manager and work longer hours for less money and be in the middle between senior management and workers? No thanks.”
Some other issues that were cited were a genuine satisfaction in contributing technical expertise and not wanting to give that up to be a manager. A third of respondents said they were not willing to give up their work-life balance. The long hours required for management was a show-stopper for women who wanted to be mothers. Another part of the equation is the ongoing perception of a glass ceiling. Why bother to get on the merry-go-round if at some point your progress will get artificially stalled? This perception of not being able to attain top jobs was 25 percent overall, buy 33 percent for women, 50 percent for African-Americans and 59 percent for workers with disabilities. It is interesting to note that some of those who said they will self-select out of a management track would be more interested in becoming leaders later in their careers.
The implications of this study for talent management and succession planning programs are huge. How do you ensure a sufficient management pipeline? What is the profile of your potential future managers and how do you attract and engage them? How do you make management jobs more palatable and have them not be a lifestyle decision? How do you put systems in place that allow individual contributors to opt-in to management later in their careers?
It’s a lot to think about and there are no easy solutions. These issues are not going away and answers must be forthcoming.
EASI•Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI Consult’s specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email [email protected] or call 800.922.EASI.
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