We are facing a time when machines will replace people for most of the jobs in the current economy (The second machine age; Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee). The list of jobs at risk is endless: system operators, reporters, farmers, office clerks, data typists, taxi drivers, drivers in general, etc. etc. It has been estimated that in the next 20 years, almost 50% of the current US jobs will be at risk (Oxford research; Frey and Osborne).
During the last few decades, being a manager was the ultimate goal for many workers. If you were good in your job, you were rewarded by being promoted to the manager level. That is changing. Content skills, the ability to actually design or create things, are gaining value at the expense of management skills. This is due to technology:
- Machines are rapidly taking over tasks, which are repetitive and low- or middle-skilled. See Robots will take your bullshit job. The bureaucratic offices with their organizational structures based on factories are changing into highly automated organizations. They need designers and engineers, not much involvement of the management.
- On the other end of the job spectrum, high-skilled experts and creative workers are increasingly becoming independent individuals. They are cooperating via networks, social collaboration and self-steering teams, supported by innovative tools and artificial intelligence.
Both machines and highly educated independent individuals don’t need a manager to tell them what to do or how to coordinate cooperation. Even the hierarchical structure of an organization becomes more of an obstacle than a supporting factor. In modern agile organizations, we see flatter organizational structures. This hierarchical structure, with departments in silos, was exactly what made the line manager so important. He was the person who planned, staffed, organized and controlled employees and departments. This need is vanishing.
Of course there will be a need for leadership, even more than ever – especially, people who are the first to see, formulate a vision, guide the way, coach and stay calm. But that role can be taken by anybody with the right skills and attitude. He/she doesn’t have to be the manager.
You may not like the message, but the line manager is the taxi driver of the coming years.
Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee: “The second machine age”
Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne: “The future of employment”
NRC 8 Mei 2015: “managers zijn volstrekt overbodig”
Financiele Telegraaf 1 Mei 2015: “ING Bank vormt zichzelf om met squads en tribes”