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The fading allure of being in charge

December 10, 2015

By Dan Van Slambrook, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

For decades, employees have viewed promotion to the ranks of management as a primary career goal.  At the same time, organizational leadership has always accepted as a given that management roles are the coveted roles on the team.  A recent survey reveals, however, that employee attitudes are shifting away from the desire to be in command. 

The Addison Group, a professional staffing organization, recently released the results of its study on workplace preferences, professional goals and values. The study found that only 33% of workers surveyed believe that being a manager would help advance their career.  Only 25% considered learning how to be a better manager a priority, and 17% indicated that they were not interested in managing others. 

Why the shift?  What is that has become less desirable about being in management?

There are a number of factors at work. With a labor market continuing to favor employees, workers are finding more opportunities for professional growth and better financial packages in positions not requiring them to take on a management role—and the extra work and perceived headaches that come with it. 

Another factor is that today’s younger workers increasingly strive for more balance between their professional and work lives. They also prefer to focus on high-impact projects that yield tangible results. Taking on a leadership role, they think, could cause them to sacrifice both of those preferences.

Yet, as older managers retire, it is these younger workers who will be needed to fill leadership vacancies. 

The Addison study brings to light several key areas that firms will need to focus on as they assess the impact of this evolving attitude—and how to compensate for it:

  1. Start with adjusting your assumptions about what it is that workers strive for in their career paths, recognizing that they see climbing the ladder to management as only one career path among many.
  2. Be sure to anchor your succession planning in employee career objectives.  Too often, employee goals, preferences and true capabilities are overlooked or assumed. A great individual contributor may not necessarily end up being a great manager—or even have an interest in being one.  Promoting good talent into positions where they fail or burn out ultimately damages the organization when those employees turn over.
  3. Do not neglect to explore career preferences in the recruitment phase. Understanding a job candidate’s “primary motivating factors” at the interview stage can help assess where he or she might best fit in the organization, and when you are considering slotting them into positions that have a likely track to management. 
  4. Communicate the vital importance of good leadership to the organization, and focus on identifying and developing those who have a strong desire to lead.
  5. Where possible, support talent retention by creating alternative career paths for employees who contribute to the organization by being “knowledge experts,” but who do not desire to be in management.

Despite this shift in workers’ attitudes, organizations still need to effectively manage.  Identifying and developing the ones who want to lead, while at the same time retaining strong contributors whose interests lie outside of management, are challenges that employers will need to pay close attention to to stay competitive. 

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