March 2002

Volume VIII  Number 1      

Are General Managers Becoming Dinosaurs?


Since the first of the year, a number of clients have been clear in saying that they no longer want to have a management role.  I looked over the last six months and found not one case of “general management” as a primary anchor.  A recent opportunity to provide service in the first-ever staffing reduction of a major international strategic consulting firm reinforced for me that the top  MBA programs emphasize teams, with shifting leadership roles.  The young “consultants” and “project leaders” who were my clients are clear, to a person, that while some are interested in entrepreneurial possibilities, general management is not a goal. 


It occurs to me that it may be a generational issue.  In researching material to present in an NYU Continuing Education course in “Career Counseling with Generation X,” I learned more about the demographics of the cohorts currently in the workforce.  Tom Brokaw’s Silent Generation has almost entirely retired, leaving the Depression and War Babies (born 1930-1945) as the group now quickly coming to grasp with ending a general management role, in favor of the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1963).  The typical characteristics of the silent generation include a willingness to follow orders and rules, and an expectation of increasing responsibilities with a single employer. 


Baby Boomers, coming of age in the Vietnam and Watergate era, are more skeptical of management at all levels, and are not averse to sharing the fact that Generation X-ers (born 1964-1978) are numerically fewer, and have come of age when both parents worked, divorce became as common as marriage, and having a college education did not guarantee a middle-class lifestyle. 


The issue of lifestyle may be part of the decline in interest in general management. Ed Schein told me, when I took his consulting course at the Cape Cod Institute, that the only change in response to the Career Anchors Test over the thirty years it has been published has been the great increase in “lifestyle” responses, with GenX-ers almost always scoring “lifestyle” as one of their top three responses.  In my own practice, I see that as well.


Let’s look at the other end of the  generational spectrum:, I have been asked to participate in a National CEO Meeting of the American Society of Field Engineers.  My topic is  “Get a Life -- Now” and my co-presenter is a 68-year-old recently retired CEO who built his company into a multi-million dollar enterprise.  He has some real horror stories of managers not being able to let go of control and not having any real outside interests.


There is a perception by many younger Boomers and GenX-ers that being a general manager requires a total commitment that overshadows family life and recreational or personal activities.  The media feeds this perception -- just see how much interest there has been in where our new mayor, Michael Bloomberg, spends his weekends.  (He apparently has at least partially been sensitized to this issue, since on a Saturday as I write this, he is marching in a parade in Queens.)


We, as a society, must help prepare the over-fifty set to relinquish general management and find lifestyle satisfaction, as well as mentor younger workers to enable them to accept the general management role.  The role may change, but our need for general management will not.  

Labor Market Update


It seems that the job market in metropolitan New York is improving in 2002. Certainly over the last six months of 2001, we have seen a rise in job placement activity. Fewer clients are getting multiple offers, perhaps because most are more eager to accept any opportunity to return to the workforce. Compensation in new positions has increased slightly. 


Some clients are making functional shifts in jobs, particularly within financial services, as the market reacts to business and political developments. 


In order to make a shift, it is crucial for clients to do the research and prepare for the interview. Hiring managers want an applicant to clearly articulate their value and knowledge to their organization.  We’re fortunate at Goodrich and Sherwood to have Barnett Serchuk and Cristel Haesicke, two master-level librarians, to help our clients get as prepared as possible.  Today, the problem isn’t getting information; it’s filtering the right information.  


Network Everywhere -- for Everything


I was reminded though two chance meetings of what we tell our clients about the value of networking.  I was having lunch while reading a magazine with a cover story on San Francisco when the gentleman next to me said he had just moved to New York from San Francisco.  He was serving as an interim pastor, and when I told him about G&S and what I do there, he had a parishioner call who has since become a client.


The next day, as I was standing in line for lunch, the man beside me was reading Fodor’s NYC travel guide.  He was, it turned out, from Charleston, SC.  I remarked that I would be in Savannah in a month to give a speech and, “foodie” that I am, would love a recommendation.  He apologized that he did not know any places.  Ten minutes later, I felt a tap on my back, and I turned to meet the Charleston man’s lunch companion, who gave me a list of five restaurants he’d recommend in Savannah. New York is certainly alive and networking!


Books I’d Recommend


The Way of Transition--Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments, by William Bridges, Cambridge, MA, Perseus Publishing, 2001, $25.


As part of my preparation for my upcoming CEO presentation, I read the most recent book by Bill Bridges, whose original book, Transitions, and subsequent tome, Job Shift, have achieved wide readership.  This new book deserves an even wider audience.


In his prologue, Bridges explains his current focus on personal rather than organizational transition.  His wife of 35 years died of cancer in 1997 after a two-year struggle.  He was overcome:  “I couldn’t image how to say anything that would match the depth of experience I was having.” 


Bridges emphasizes the difference between change, which is a situational shift, such as getting a new job, and transition, which is “the process of letting go of the way things used to be and then taking hold of the way they subsequently become.”  He sees three phases -- the ending, neutral zone, and beginning again -- and points out that we have resistance in all three of these phases.  Transition also takes longer than change.


“The transition process ends the old and begins the new.  Between ending and beginning is the emptiness of the neutral zone, the chaos from which all new life flows.  Without one neutral zone, there would be no rebirth…. To me, the wonderful phrase ‘Get a Life!’ is not a request to learn anything -- just to live, to stop fixating on the right answer, to find your own path and take off.”


Bridges writes clearly and obviously with tremendous personal commitment.  There are many gifts in this work, but for me the concept of the neutral zone is most helpful, since I -- and many of my clients -- have the most difficulty with that phase.