The "Real" New Economy?

RainmakerThinking Inc., a leadership development firm led by Bruce Tulgan, author of Managing Generation X, recently released the findings of a 10-year study on changes in the American workplace. The report's key points include:

  • Work has become more demanding on employees.
  • Employer-employee relationships have become less hierarchical and more transactional.
  • Employers are moving away from long-term employment relationships.
  • Employees have less confidence in long-term rewards and greater expectations for short-term rewards.
  • Immediate supervisors are now the most important people in the workplace.
  • Supervising employees now requires more time and skill on the part of managers.

Not much new there, eh? What's interesting is how Tulgan contextualizes the research, which was done between 1993 and 2003. "In the early- and mid-1990s, these trends were decried as aberrations — driven by the 'free agent' inclinations of Generation X," Tulgan writes. "Many analysts expected these trends to abate following the dot-com crash and the economic downturn that has persisted since early 2001. Instead, these trends have both intensified and also spread among workers of all ages."

He continues: "Average employees feel challenged to take care of themselves and their families; they struggle to balance desires for long-term security with short-term needs for opportunities, work conditions, recognition, and rewards. The downturn in the economy has further entrenched these responses, not weakened them."

Also of note are the trends behind the immediate supervisor's emergence as the workplace VIP. "Employees think of their immediate supervisors as the primary representatives of their employers' missions, policies, systems, and practices," the report indicates. "The day-to-day communication between supervisory managers and direct reports has more impact than any other single factor on employee productivity, quality, morale, and retention."

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  • margaret

    Submitted for your consideration - transactional structures also provide a convenient mechanism for top side people to abdicate their responsibilities, ostensibly empowering those below them - and to assume the risk of leadership without the benefits that generally accompany key decision maker positions.
    I don't think anyone will ever be able to make a definitive case that structure is the key to time to market, quickness to decision making. What makes the difference is the integrity and the behavior. Structure can be side stepped, circumvented but integrity cannot.

  • M. Zeng

    I am a fan of Bruce Tulgan and reading his book "Work This Way" has changed my outlook on life after college. To answer Chris Redhage's post, I think what Tulgan means when he states that "employer-employee relationships have become less hierarchical and more transactional," is that while a hierarchy still exists these days, there is less structure in communications/relationships between upper management and lower-level employees. In a hierarchical structure top management would rarely seek opinions from those much further down, but in transactional leadership you will find upper management working directly with lower-level employees. The increase in transactional leadership is probably a direct result of the paring down in middle management we see now a days as a means for companies to cut costs. Smaller companies for years have been working better and faster using transactional leadership to their advantage, and now larger companies are following suit to survive and compete effectively. Now my question back to Chris Redhage is "What is the difference investing in a person versus investing in a position with an expendable occupant?"

  • Mark Zorro

    M.Zeng asked what is the difference between investing in a person and the "expendable occupant". One profits a relationship that builds an organizational as well as a human life, the other builds a snapshot balance sheet, that is temporary in its nature and wasteful in its short-term outlook, without any synergy that comes with purpose and longevity. Mr Zeng, in developed countries people are looking for meaning in their lives not just jobs. You may then be thinking, then why call this part of the world "developed"? The answer to that paradox is also found in your question.

    As for Mr Redhage, absolutely spot on, leadership is about transformation; transformation based on permission and will on the part transformed and humility and respect on part of the transformer.

    (Mark Twain wasn't Mark Twain, Mark Zorro isn't Mark Zorro)

  • Mike Stanway

    There is no question about the relationship between purpose and productivity, however Mr. Zeng's observation is honest in a clinical way, that the mechanical structure is a protection in business, mitigating the negative impact of losing a key personality. But success in business is surely tied to effective leadership, which is completely human, therefore successful leadership is ultimately linked to character first, structure second. An effective leader will reduce the requirement of middle management both by strategy and by the positive effect of their example on their peers and their direct reports, creating a culture of leadership. That is why large corporations suffer when they lose a good leader. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan made these observations in their co-authored "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done". I can attest to the practicality of Chris and Mark's comments.

    Mike Stanway

  • Chris Redhage

    I would like to pose the question to the readers? What is the difference between "hierarchical and more transactional"? I say there is no difference. Throughout my short yet extensive education, I have come to the realization that hierarchical and transactional leadership (relationships) are more or less the same leadership style. Sure their might be a difference in the structure (i.e. flat or vertical organization) but they both miss the point. Leadership is not about where one belongs on the organizational flow chart. It is not about who gets the next promotion or who gets credit for the new customer. Leadership is about influence and making a difference in an individual’s life. It is my thought that good leadership is not transactional; it is transformational at the least and transforming in its entirety. What is it going to take for us to realize that investing in people provides a far better return than pouring money into a position with an expendable occupant?