Are middle managers on the wrong side of history?
We constantly hear that Millennials – already the most-represented generation in the US labour force – abhor conventional bosses. Many Millennials reputedly believe that they are already task-competent and can work autonomously, guided by their own internal sense of purpose. Given the option of working at either a standard corporation or a lean startup, they’d overwhelmingly prefer the latter. If this were an accurate portrait of Millennials’ attitudes, established firms looking to attract and retain top young talent would have no choice but to restructure accordingly: in particular, changing their hierarchical management style.
Furthermore, today’s large organisations may soon have the means to begin eliminating middle managers altogether. (By middle managers, we mean managers who do not report directly to the highest CEO in the organisation and who are at least one level above the first line supervisor). The arrival of intelligent machines capable of performing many key tasks of white-collar workers could make it easier than ever for incumbents to emulate Zappos and the other 'bossless' companies that have attracted much media attention.
That’s the bad news for middle managers: sooner or later (probably sooner), they will have to prove to employers that their value extends beyond their traditional functional responsibilities. But here’s the good news: the stereotypes about both Millennials and middle managers shouldn’t be trusted. In the future of the corporation, evolved middle managers will have an essential role to play.