Senior Managers: Wake-up now before you won’t need to set the alarm for work!

If you are a senior manager in your 30s your wake up alarm is now blaring. While you are busy dealing with an inbox full of emails, supervising staff and reporting to your superior, your job position could be eroding from under your feet. It’s time to step back and determine if you are about to fall into the sinkhole of a ‘no longer necessary’ position. We are in the fourth industrial revolution which will impact millions of jobs in many industries.


How has the world changed?

Most ‘old-world’ companies have expanded their core offering over the years. This is because it was a convenient ‘bolt on’ and customer acquisition costs were low. Times have changed. ‘Uberisation’ is disrupting banking, transportation and will spread to other sectors, as customers unbundle their needs and shop for the best deals. Their needs are increasingly being matched by focused entrepreneurial companies who are nibbling away at their service offerings. Perhaps like hunters, entrepreneurs select their prey and focus on the kill!


Big game hunters target old world companies

There is an interesting parallel that today’s large companies have with the big game animals. Last year Walter Palmer made headlines when he used a modern steel crossbow to shoot dead Cecil, a black-maned lion in Zimbabwe. Big game hunters enjoy the thrill of seeking out large animals with their modern firearms accompanied by local guides. Entrepreneurs on the other hand enjoy the thrill of creating successful companies that will disrupt the feeding ground of ‘old-world’ companies. It is no wonder that many of these companies are looking for strategies to make them more agile, responsive and innovative.


How severe will the technological disruption be?

In a recent book, The Second Machine Age, MIT Sloan professor, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, MIT Scientist, paint a bleak future for jobs in several sectors. This is because of technological advances, job and economic growth have been decoupled. The bottom line: You don’t need more jobs for economic growth.

Automation and the Internet of Things will displace millions of jobs in logistics, warehousing, telemarketing across many industries. Employees and managers alike, need to be on guard as job security will disappear. In this changing landscape how do mid-level managers prepare themselves? Should they pursue more domain expertise, when this might be redundant?


What domain expertise do you develop?

Is it worth spending time to become a domain expert? Consider the Uber business model, which does not rely on domain expertise of roads. Typically the London black cab drivers take two to four years of training before they can pick up a passenger on the street. With Uber, training can be as short as two hours! Consider how many training and support personal will be out of work if London cab drivers no longer need two years training!

According to Oxford University researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, “Around 47 percent of total U.S. employment is in the high risk category. We refer to these as jobs at risk – i.e. jobs we expect could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.” What will become of mid-level managers, who by then will have perhaps 10 years until retirement and won’t be able to find suitable alternative employment? This is a serious issue, since most professionals, take on debt with the expectation that it will be repaid by the age of 55 or 60 years, when they retire.


All middle managers have developed transferable skills, but they are often hard pressed to list them. So it is important to catalogue these skills and keep a record of your achievements and learnings. This is the first step in creating dynamic stability.


It is better to take a step back to take a step forward.

It’s better to make a career change when you are not yet at senior management, have fewer financial commitments and allow yourself a longer runway to launch a 20-year career. Making that decision is not going to be easy as technology advances are going to rapidly erode industries, so you need to think long and hard think about which industry you want to be in.


Defining and building your brand is critical

Just as great companies have brands, so do great managers. Little is taught to executives about developing your personal brand. Getting your brand right, consistent and being able to broadcast it effectively is an important skill for managers.


Very few careers follow a straight-line trajectory. There will be setbacks and difficult bosses who will derail your career ambitions. You need to recognize these disturbances and deal with them in an effective manner, so you can learn to course correct. In the aviation industry this is known as dynamic stability.  


So what is dynamic stability?

A term used in the aviation industry to describe an aircraft’s ability to respond to disruptive weather forces and actively correct to maintain the prescribed flight path. To do this effectively in your career you will need much more than domain expertise. In our book we identify nine entrepreneurial behaviours: Self-efficacy, Risk-taking, Passion, Learning, Realism, Persuasiveness, Opportunism, Innovation and Energy-Action-bias. Mid-level managers would do well to identify with some of these traits that can also become part of their personal brand.


In speaking with employers, we hear of the need for what we would term as life skills; problem solving, the ability to work effectively in teams and the ability to multi-task. Our advice to mid-level managers is to work on your brand, build and catalogue your skills and take time out to consider your long term career prospects. Else you should be preparing, emotionally and financially, for a very early retirement. The financial impact of not being able to clear your debt before the unexpected early retirement will impact you and have significant knock-on effects for your debt providers.


In the meantime, we wish you well. You are on an interesting and perilous journey, so tread carefully!

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