It seems like I can't go more than a week without seeing an article in the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company or some other business publication where an author opines about the top challenges that business leaders are facing today. While there are a few commonalities among these lists, most of them seem to be personal opinions.
I also recently read about how David Letterman is leaving the air in May of this year. In honor of his 30-something years in broadcasting, I thought I would come up with my list of the Top 10 Challenges Managers Face in 2015. I'll let you just imagine that this has one of those cool intros like they have on the Late Show...
10. Increased Pace of Technology Change: Technology is here to stay and if we believe Moore's law we can anticipate a constant need to keep up.
9. Millennials: This one (like #10) is here because there seems to be an unwritten law that it has to be included. Actually I don't think Millennials are that much more or less of a concern than previous generations beyond a somewhat higher degree of self-entitlement, although continuing to put them on lists like this probably doesn't help.
8. Disgruntled Gen Xers: Unlike Millennials who get a lot of press, Gen X seems to be largely forgotten about in these conversations. That's OK because they are used to it. The problem, however, is that Gen X has mostly been told to wait their turn until the Baby Boomers get out of the way, but now have Millennials breathing down their back. The problem for managers is that the Baby Boomers are finally retiring and the Millennials don't have the experience yet. Businesses need to make sure the Gen Xers don't feel undervalued or they may take their experience and expertise and go elsewhere.
7. Educated Customers: A lot has been made of the educated consumer who learns how to game the system. Particularly when they do so in ways that ends up being a detriment to the company. Airline loyalty programs are one of the best examples of this where frequent fliers figure out how to make the programs work for them but not the airline. Here's the thing... don't fight the educated consumer, embrace them. EBay did a great job of this under Meg Whitman and grew dramatically.
6. Employees Who Are More Educated But Less Knowledgeable: Both in terms of raw numbers and as a percentage of our society, more people have college degrees now than ever before. This is a good thing because it means more people see the value in being educated, but some of these folks assume that the degree alone is a ticket to success. We have to remember that it is not the degree but what we do with it that makes the difference.
5. Workplace Stress: This one is nothing new. Workplace stress has been around since before the industrial revolution and it will be here in one form or another long after we are all gone. As managers, we have to remember that our employees are real people with real lives both inside and outside of work. We also want to work to make sure that we are alleviators and mitigaters of stress where appropriate, and not unnecessary agitators.
4. Virtual Teams: Teams are not new, but virtual teams have become more common as the internet and other technologies have made it possible to collaborate without being face-to-face. As a result, more and more we see teams that are geographically dispersed and culturally heterogeneous. One of the most important things we can do as leaders is help them work effectively together.
3. Innovation Overpowering Execution: I heard some guy on a plane the other day say "elegance of design is far more important than functionality." As much as I wanted to point out how foolish I felt this idea is, there is a whole segment of our business society that believes this. We have to always be ready to defend against it because no matter how pretty something is, if it doesn't work it is useless.
2. Devolving Employer/Employee Compact: With a few exceptions, the days of lifetime employment and the associated loyalty are long gone. We cannot expect employees to stay unless we give them reason to. We need to ensure they only go when it is an opportunity they can't pass up.
1. Being a Leader Instead of Just a Manager: Closely linked to #2 is the issue of what is the difference between a leader and a manager. This is not a new discussion but it has never been more important. It also ties back to the old saying that people don't quit jobs they quit bosses. Leaders are generally not the kind of bosses that people quit. Make sure you're a leader and a lot of these challenges will take care of themselves.
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About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with eighteen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard.