Is Our Management System a Dead Man Walking?

Management as we know it is a dead man walking. I believe the future of management isn’t even management as we have it defined today – a type of command-and-control centralization of power and information.

I’ve written on the difference between leadership and management before and was met with a dichotomy of viewpoints – some heartily agreed while others adamantly disapproved with my characterizations of the two styles.

But, the truth is, management is broken. It’s a system designed for a world that no longer exists except in the management books of yesteryear. Don’t get me wrong. Management worked quite successfully for hundreds of years when the bulk of our economy and industry centered around the manufacturing and distribution of product. However, that world no longer exists – at least in the United States (which is where most of my readers reside).

Instead, over 80% of the US economy is comprised of service-based businesses. The vast majority of us don’t construct physical products – we provide a service to people. In spite of this, we cling blindly to a management system that wasn’t designed for the world we now find ourselves in the middle of. Manufacturing is a slow process. It’s a linear process. Service is a dynamic, non-static, non-linear type of business that must be adaptive and flexible – the antithesis of what management craves.

When I talk about The Millennial Revolution, some people get upset with me. I’m okay with that because I’m not here to tickle their ears with a message that everything is going to be okay simply by holding firm to a system many are starting to realize is no longer working. There are plenty of other people that will do that for you.

Instead, I want to explain what’s happening and why. I want to increase understanding so that real innovation in the workplace can occur. Because it’s the innovators that will ultimately succeed – not those companies that continue to do something simply because that’s how they’ve always done it. This is a form of pride and we all know that pride comes before the fall.

As it stands, Millennials are a generation of people 80 million strong in the US. Over 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 34. Many have already entered the workforce and more will be entering the workforce in the coming years. As I mentioned before, it’s not whether you think they’re right or wrong that matters. If it comes down to a fight, they’re going to win out simply by sheer size and the attrition and mortality of those generations above them. In three short years, they will comprise 50% of the workforce in the US. I’m betting that in 10 years, they will hold the majority of the management and executive positions in most companies.

So, who do you think will be shaping the future of how companies are run?

I’m writing this to let you know that I’m shifting the emphasis of this blog a little. I’ll still focus on leadership, entrepreneurship and management. However, I’m going to tell you what’s coming and help you get prepared for the inevitable changes.

I also want to help you shape the future. If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer, you’re needed. This isn’t about rolling over and blindly accepting what Millennials want. But the goal shouldn’t be to blindly fight to protect a dying system. The goal should be about shaping and guiding the evolution of business and management. Neither side is fully right or fully wrong. My purpose is to focus us on the principles that transcend the right-versus-wrong argument and examine how we can allow for differing implementations of the principles that should remain unaltered.

Management as we’ve come to know it is not a principle. It’s a system. And it’s a broken system.

I want to hear from you. I want to know what you’d like me to write about. This is a dialogue. So, start talking.

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  • Rbews

    love this. I agree- management will need to become about managing results more and more and less about “keeping an eye” on employees and noticing the time they physically come and go! this is why our city is leading http://www.workshiftcalgary.com. You’re right- its time to pay attention to the evolution of work b/c if we don’t, we’ll find ourselves in a catch up position, rather than that coveted leadership position.

    • Thanks so much! I’m very interested in hearing more about what you’re doing and checking out your website. Any chance I could contact you directly with some questions I might have?

      Thanks,
      Travis

  • Super post. I am working on revolutionizing relationships on planet Earth and one important aspect of that is the relationship between corporate America and it’s workforce. It is broken and will need to evolve. People don’t do life like their parents and will force a shift in thinking – relationships are the key.

    Will be tweeting to the high heavens!

    • Thank you, Denise! You’re right that each generation brings changes from how their parent’s generation thinks and operates. Relationships are critical and I think that too many organizations forget that the relationship works both ways. People are treated as “resources” to be “managed” rather than as “people” with skills, gifts and talents to contribute to a larger cause.

      Keep the ideas and conversation coming! I really appreciate you jumping in. ūüôā

  • I work in the arts and I think small to mid-size arts organizations could adapt easily since we are already in the business of thinking creatively. Everyone has to be in on the change though. 1 semi-powerful naysayer, and the shift will be hard to make. It might still happen, but it might be too late too.

    • I agree, Sandy. Small and mid-sized organizations are definitely able to adapt more easily than larger companies.

      I also think that not even one powerful naysayer will be able to ultimately stop what’s coming. It all boils down to the size of the generation and their willingness to skirt and subvert the systems they think are broken or preventing change. Ultimately, that powerful naysayer will get pushed out or retire. The culture of innovation won’t be kind to those who stand in the way if the innovation is, in the end, more important to the survival of the company.

      We’ll explore this a lot in future posts since I think you hit on something which is a common concern/question: how do we accommodate for the people who will fight the evolution of the organization. It’s a fantastic question and one that needs a lot of community involvement to analyze and solve.

      Thanks for joining in the conversation! ūüôā

  • I look forward to this shift Travis, and expect to contribute regularly from the front lines. I’ve begun down a path considering how effective leadership of Millennials today is more like that of Mr. Miyagi than the bosses of our fathers.

    Here is an excerpt from this idea in progress:
    The millennial generation is incredibly well educated, thanks to the continued rise of the college system, lack of a significant wealth crippling war in our generation, and parents willing to both encourage and sacrifice for us financially, and has high expectations for its own future. The millennial workforce does not buy-in to tenure, “putting in your time,” or org charts; but rather expects results and success quickly. We believe that merit, smarts, and gusto are a good recipe for promotion, and aren’t afraid to make that known.

    The wisdom and experience of those who have gone before us is incredibly needed and valuable, but we rarely slow down enough to recognize its value (and often lack the humility to acknowledge it as well).
    [Enter Mr. Miyagi]

    Those leaders lucky enough to have Millennials supporting their teams, businesses, NGOs, or Social Media Departments have an opportunity–no, a RESPONSIBILITY–to shape the future of Millennials in business, the workforce of the 21st Century.

    It just takes a little “wax on, wax off.”

    We need to learn many of the skills and traits that come from experience and practice, but we don’t want to waste our time doing tasks or roles in which we don’t see immediate value. Help teach us how to “paint the fence,” while you’re really teaching us the values of patience, persistence, and perseverance.

    Meanwhile, we’ll teach you about collaboration, passion, and a belief in the impossible.

    • Love the Mr. Miyagi analogy, Niles! And I appreciate the support. You’re one of the thought-leaders on this topic and I always enjoy our exchanges of ideas. (I haven’t forgotten that I owe you a response on the last one, by the way. ūüôā )

      You really hit on something with this statement:

      The millennial workforce does not buy-in to tenure, “putting in your time,” or org charts; but rather expects results and success quickly. We believe that merit, smarts, and gusto are a good recipe for promotion, and aren’t afraid to make that known.

      I believe this is both our greatest asset and our biggest weakness to organizations depending on their ability to shift to capitalize on it. Those that succeed will see incredible innovation within the organization. Those that fail to shift will see high turnover and employee dissatisfaction.

      Our generation definitely needs to learn from the experience of the generations above us. However, we have to be taught in a manner that aligns with how we learn as opposed to how it’s always been done.

      Thanks for jumping in!

  • I love Dan Pink’s thoughts on management. I’m assuming you’re familiar?

    • Very familiar with Pink’s thoughts. I loved his book Drive. It’s loaded with valuable information on motivation. I actually mention his stuff in my e-book.

  • Perhaps I’m wrong but I get the feeling that you think Gen Xers are opposed to new management paradigms. As a Gen Xer myself, I know that many of the largest companies that you can think of were founded and built on the principles you allude to in this post. In my mind, we’ve been waiting for you Mellenials to catch up. ūüôā Welcome aboard. Seriously though this is a great post. Looking forward to reading more.

  • Perhaps I’m wrong but I get the feeling that you think Gen Xers are opposed to new management paradigms. As a Gen Xer myself, I know that many of the largest companies that you can think of were founded and built on the principles you allude to in this post. In my mind, we’ve been waiting for you Mellenials to catch up. ūüôā Welcome aboard. Seriously though this is a great post. Looking forward to reading more.

  • Management as we know it IS a broken system indeed.. ¬†Especially middle management.

    When I look at certain systems I think of rules. ¬†Rules and principles are different things. ¬†If you’re principle-driven, you do things because you have a vision and you want to share your mission with others. ¬†Rules, well, they’re for those that lack vision and need routines, I say.

    Certainly, there’s the need for systems to be more efficient and master the mundane.. ¬†That’s where operations can bet tweaked and made less fatty. ¬†From there, we should be free to do more of the stuff that really provides value in any role. ¬†You know, the strategic and oversight stuff that leads to consistent results, happier team members, more satisfied customers, and progress across-the-board.

    This is a very powerful wake-up call here. ¬†Of course, the stuffy suits will always argue against this sort of thing because they figure, “Why change? ¬†This is how it’s always been.. ¬†It’s always worked!” ¬†It’s a sort of arrogance that is unproductive and silly, really.

    While I’m not a huge fan of Apple products, I admire them as a company. ¬†What a great story.. ¬†They made their own rules and did crazy stuff.. ¬†Still do. ¬†So, for anyone to disagree with your ideas here and not even give them a second thought, to me, would be the equivalent of being dismissive about Apple’s success.

    Let’s face it: love them or hate them, they’ve come a long way from the days of door-to-door sales and holding on desperately to small markets like schools and graphic designers. ¬†For a while, that was their only claim to fame.. ¬†Now look at them.

    They’re not alone, either.. ¬†But I’ll end my epic comments here. ¬†Thanks for this – CHEERS!

  • Management as we know it IS a broken system indeed.. ¬†Especially middle management.

    When I look at certain systems I think of rules. ¬†Rules and principles are different things. ¬†If you’re principle-driven, you do things because you have a vision and you want to share your mission with others. ¬†Rules, well, they’re for those that lack vision and need routines, I say.

    Certainly, there’s the need for systems to be more efficient and master the mundane.. ¬†That’s where operations can bet tweaked and made less fatty. ¬†From there, we should be free to do more of the stuff that really provides value in any role. ¬†You know, the strategic and oversight stuff that leads to consistent results, happier team members, more satisfied customers, and progress across-the-board.

    This is a very powerful wake-up call here. ¬†Of course, the stuffy suits will always argue against this sort of thing because they figure, “Why change? ¬†This is how it’s always been.. ¬†It’s always worked!” ¬†It’s a sort of arrogance that is unproductive and silly, really.

    While I’m not a huge fan of Apple products, I admire them as a company. ¬†What a great story.. ¬†They made their own rules and did crazy stuff.. ¬†Still do. ¬†So, for anyone to disagree with your ideas here and not even give them a second thought, to me, would be the equivalent of being dismissive about Apple’s success.

    Let’s face it: love them or hate them, they’ve come a long way from the days of door-to-door sales and holding on desperately to small markets like schools and graphic designers. ¬†For a while, that was their only claim to fame.. ¬†Now look at them.

    They’re not alone, either.. ¬†But I’ll end my epic comments here. ¬†Thanks for this – CHEERS!

  • Hi Travis, Just came across your post now: I find it very actual. I totally agree with your views and I am confident that because we humans are intelligent and adaptable (if we want to) then we will embrace the shift. I was just reading an article on the major change social media and online business change marketing strategies: promotion, prices and place matter less and less.
    In my mind, innovation, engagement, passion and care will matter increasingly. Management needs to adapt because companies are going through a fundamental change. I used to work for a multinational which put a lot of emphasis on Innovation. It’s good that the top sets the tone and it has to be this way for change to occur. I personally think that everyone of us has its stake and word to say. The world needs us ūüôā
    Thanks for bringing up this subject. It’s really dear to me.