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Is Management (and Management Education) Dying?

by David Wyld 8 months ago in workflow
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Does America have too many managers? While some have argued that the U.S. has a “managerial glut,” the truth of the matter is that we need good management, and managers, more than ever.

Is Management (and Management Education) Dying?
Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

A few weeks back, I had a friend post an article on my Facebook timeline. Now, he’s the kind of distant (in miles) friend who gives me a good amount of kidding online, and he had read an article that he thought basically meant the end of what I do for a living. See, my “main job” is as a management professor in a college of business, and he had just read an article, the thesis of which was this: America's got waaaaaaaaay too many managers today! And if we, as a country, already have too many people in managerial roles, then being in the “business” of producing more managers is baaaaaaad business! Michael basically was saying, “Goodnight to your career!” - in that serious, but sarcastic and almost loving way that guy friends do, both in real life and virtually. But yes, he had basically read this article and thought, “Hey, he’ll be having to decide between driving a truck and being a Walmart greeter in a few years, as there simply won’t be a need for him to be educating and developing young people to be managers anymore quite soon!”

The article in question came from The Atlantic, and it was entitled, “Say Goodbye to Your Manager.” The article was written by Ed Zitron, who is the CEO of the technology-public-relations firm EZPR. His basic thesis was simple. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, forever! With the shift to more and more of us working remotely, there will be less and less need for the kind of direct managerial oversight that we’ve become accustomed to in American business - which he derisively calls “hall monitor” management! But Zitron believes that the mind boggling changes in the way we work and the way firms operate in the COVID era have only exacerbated the belief that American companies simply have too many managers!

By Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Zitron relies largely on research from the Harvard Business Review which shows that organizations in the U.S. tend to have far more administrative personnel compared to their counterparts in other advanced countries. The HBR study, led by renowned management expert Gary Hamel, found that we have over 23 million people in the U.S. engaged in managerial work. Iffffffffffffff American companies were to “get in line” with the rest of the world and reduce their managerial ranks (eliminating what Hamel terms “excess management”), U.S. firms could save an eye-popping $3 trillion dollars annually! Now his proposition is not that American companies just fire many, if not most, of those presently in the managerial ranks, but redirect approximately half of all who hold a managerial title into what he terms as “other work that is more creative and productive.”

Now, I am quite confident that the 12.9 million American managers that Hamel would like to see redeployed in their careers would not take such a move lying down. In fact, all managers would look upon the call for most of their fellow management peeps to do something that is more productive than managing others as being quite offensive!

All of this brings me back to Zitron’s Atlantic piece. He is even more direct in his criticism of the value of most managers today, observing that far too many organizations promote their best performers to be managers, even if they show no real talent and/or aspiration for being a manager. Indeed, he attributes the rise of most managers to the Peter Principle, where they “rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach a level of respective incompetence.”

Zitron states that “in order to survive, managers, in other words, will need to start proving that they actually do something” (emphasis in the original).

Now as a management educator and consultant, I would take a great deal of issue that managers don’t do something! I would hold that by and large, the vast majority of managers do add value - both to their organizations and to the people they supervise. And as the world of work changes, management will, yes, have to change as well. But the notion that we could just do away with 50-60-70% of all managers today is absurd!

Yes, we are at an interesting point in the evolution of how organizations - of all types and sizes - will operate. From Fortune 500 companies to mid-level firms and even small enterprises, to nonprofits, hospitals, and even government agencies, there will be a renewed focus on management that is almost unprecedented since the 1980’s and 90’s, when many organizations saw great value in eliminating much of the ranks of middle management that no longer provided value connecting the front lines to the executive suite.

But while the very notion of management will indeed change markedly moving forward, the need for management - and leadership - is greater than ever! And so I am confident that the need for management education will remain strong, both in higher education and in company training programs. Yes, the ranks of “hall monitor”-type managers will decline, but a new way of managing the mix of in-office, remote, and hybrid workers will rise in their place. And while the “gross” number of managers across the American landscape may indeed dip in the coming years, we will see a greater demand than ever for managers who can successfully navigate and lead others in this brave new world of work. So, there will be a need for management education/training that develops good managers and leaders - for whatever lies ahead.

And so in the end, I do believe that management education and training will be more vital than ever before. At the college level, getting a management degree has always been a tough sell. That is because it is different, in that majoring in management does not mean that one walks out the door of your college to do precisely what you were trained to do from day 1. When you get an education degree, you become a teacher on day 1. When you get a nursing degree, you become a nurse on day 1. And when you get an accounting degree, you are ready to be an accountant on day 1. But it is exceedingly rare that one of our management graduates becomes a manager on day 1! Rather, you work in an organization and then are promoted into management, and whether that is 6 months or 1, 2… 6 years or more down the line, hopefully all that you learned about management in college and what you have learned on the job combine to make you a “good” manager. Ours is an indirect impact, whether we are talking about teaching students in college or training employees in the work setting, as the value of management education and training can only be seen “down the road” when those we teach/train have the opportunity to manage and lead others. It is, in essence, a “derived demand,” with a lag - of months, years, perhaps even a decade or more - between when the information is imparted and the impact of that education/training can be seen.

Thus, the ROI (return on investment) of management education is a long one, and yes, it may seem to be too long to value, but it is there. And across the landscape of companies, government agencies, school systems, and more today, what we see is a need for better management to meet the needs of not just workers, but of society as a whole. We are better off - in our organizations and collectively - having people who are well-trained and well-positioned to succeed, both as managers and as employees. And so not, I don’t think management education is dying, just like I don’t think that the profession of management is going away. Rather, just like all aspects of life, change is always happening. And so we will need to change how we educate and train about managing - emphasizing the critical importance of leadership and even self-management - in an era when work and organizations are fast-changing.

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About David Wyld

David Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at https://authory.com/DavidWyld.

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About the author

David Wyld

Professor, Consultant, Doer. Founder/Publisher of The IDEA Publishing (http://www.theideapublishing.com/) & Modern Business Press (http://www.modernbusinesspress.com)

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