One of the implications of the convergence of Gen Y and technology in the workspace could well be the demise of middle management. If that is you, then you have every reason to be concerned with this possibility.

As with every new generation who enter the workplace, changes occur. Boomer led organizations are currently scrambling to attract and retain ‘talent’ which is largely a euphuism for the ‘best of Gen X’ (those between 20-35). The arrival of Gen X at work has brought about significant questions, shifts and challenges to the conventional wisdom that has become entrenched during the Boomer watch. This is all about to be further agitated as Gen Y gets ready to enter the ‘real world’ of work. Where generational trends are more advanced (UK & USA for example) the change patterns are already taking shape and one of them is the threat to middle management.

Generally Gen Y simply do not see the need or logic in reporting to someone who, in their eyes, simply tracks what it is they do – especially when such monitoring can be self-regulated through appropriate technology. It is both an ‘attitude thing’ as well as a practical – or ‘technology thing’. Both are hard to ignore.

This is a generation who more than ever want to be told what is expected of them; given the tools to do the job; and then left alone to forge their own collaborative space, networks and working pattern. It is an ‘outcomes’ based approach to what needs to be done rather than an ‘inputs’ based approach. In the former model accountability shifts to the individual, away from the middle manager whose job it is to keep watch, check, monitor, measure, report and give feedback. All that is glaringly unnecessary argue Gen Y who simply sees technology as a viable means to do all that and what’s more, knows how to get it done using technology. Technology has now become the new ‘general manager’.

Realigning business is nothing new. Many make a living from helping corporate leaders do just that – realign, restructure or reengineer. Words and processes abound in what is often nothing more than a futile exercise in moving the chairs around – and I will avoid adding the Titanic bit! I suspect that given the twin onset of Gen Y and technology in the workplace there will be a lot more such activity! It will be needed. The enticing invitation is the opportunity to approach such a task with openness and be willing to explore fresh approaches and find creative alternatives. Certainly Gen Y (and their older siblings Gen X) will be more than happy to tell you what they think in such matters – if only we will listen. Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School where her focus is the future of work, suggests that if you are a middle manager, there are two things – two investments – you need to do / make if you are to combat this new threat. Firstly, there is the need to build knowledge or competencies that are valuable and rare – or what Gratton terms, your “signature”. Failure to do this will render you invisible is how Gratton phrases it. Secondly, is the investment of developing new areas of proficiency, or moving into adjacencies throughout your working life. Gratton argues that not all deep knowledge will be valued the same and she suggests that areas such as advocacy, social and micro entrepreneurship, the life and health sciences, energy conservation, creativity and innovation, and coaching will be highly prized in the decades to come.

The ‘old’ approach slows things down and in a world where speed of information and decision-making can be the difference between success and failure, why make things more difficult than they need to be is the argument of Gen Y.

They may just have a point.

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