Recently, a colleague of mine attended a meeting where there were eight managers and only one worker—him. There were plenty of leaders to create the high-level strategy, but when all was said and done, guess who came away with all the task assignments?
This is obviously not a balanced situation, but it’s not unusual. Companies all over the country are overflowing with leaders and short on the team members who actually do the work. We’re in the midst of a cultural phenomenon where companies have created so many leaders that they have no followers.
The question is, why has this become the new “business as usual”? What’s going on?
As I see it, there’s a cascade of problems. And it starts with the Boomers. According to AARP, “boomers [are] turning 65 at a rate of about 8,000 a day.” That’s a lot of people—with decades of experience—aging out of the workforce, and yet their positions aren’t being refilled quickly enough—if they’re refilled at all.
Of the positions that are being offered, many of them are dead-end entry level jobs. Even then, they typically require a college diploma, which means that hard-working high-school graduates are being locked out from the professional arena altogether. Effectively, the college degree has supplanted the high-school degree, which makes the bachelor’s degree seem run-of-the-mill. As a result, more college grads are getting MBAs to try to stand out and move up the ranks. According to Fortune magazine, “the number of MBAs issued has jumped 623% since 1970.”
These young MBAs have the education, but they don’t necessarily have the work experience. Yet, because they’ve just shelled out big bucks for advanced degrees, they feel both entitled and obligated to become high earning, high-level management—ASAP! An MBA graduate joins an organization and then—jump, jump, jump—they’re cycling through a string of jobs until suddenly they’re in a management position. With very little on-the-job experience, they’re leading without context.
As a result, workplaces end up with a two-fold problem: too many inexperienced managers and not enough seasoned technicians. Not exactly a recipe for success.
How can a company avoid this fate? With the upsurge in Millennial MBAs and the continued retirement of the Boomer generation, the quality of leadership will continue to degrade and the imbalance between leaders and technicians will only grow. Companies must be proactive in creating hiring and promoting strategies to right the ship. Here are three commonsense strategies:
Open the door to entry-level applicants without college degrees. The corporate world needs to let go of the stigma against high-school graduates. Culture tells us that people are lazy if they don’t go into college after high school. But for many, it’s the exact opposite—they’re eager to get to work, and they’d rather earn money than accrue student-loan debt. Instead of asking, “Are you a college graduate?” we should be asking, “Are you a great worker?”
Make sure your entry-level truly IS a starting point. You could have a future manager in your midst. Instead of hiring from outside, look at the people in your lower-level positions, identify the talent there, and bring them up in your company. Let those entry-level positions really be what they should be—an entrance, not a dead end.
Nurture your people and their career goals. Set a career path for the technicians in your company—your customer service agents, your administrators, your call center workers. There are plenty of people who like to work in teams. They don’t necessarily want to become managers, but they still want the opportunity to gain seniority, learn new skills, and make more money. Treasure those workers and nurture their career paths, and you’ll cultivate a motivated workforce with the right blend of managers and team members.