How Managers and Supervisors Must Adapt in 2018

by Bruce Tulgan5 Min Read

Over the years, our Generational Shift study has repeatedly taken us back to the undermanagement epidemic. That’s because undermanagement is almost always there, hiding in plain sight. Our ongoing research shows that undermanagement is a perennial issue: The remarkably consistent data shows that nine out of ten managers fail to maintain an ongoing one-on-one dialogue sufficient to deliver on the “the fundamentals.”

It’s always been hard to manage people. It is much harder today than ever before and it’s getting harder every day. Why?

It’s always been hard to manage people. It is much harder today than ever before and it’s getting harder every day. Why? The causes of the undermanagement epidemic dovetail very much with the trend lines of the Great Generational Shift. Let’s start with globalization and technology. The pace of change is accelerating for everyone all the time – from the macro level all the way down to the micro. In today’s knowledge-driven, machine-powered, highly interconnected, fiercely competitive global marketplace, everything is complex, fast-moving, and always in flux. Work that used to take weeks takes moments. Relationships that would have been nearly impossible due to geography are now taken for granted. Communication and travel are nearly instantaneous.

Yet we are also vulnerable in entirely new ways. One technical glitch today can slow down your operation for days or weeks at a time – not just in your own physical location, but in locations with contractors and vendors to whom you might be connected, all over the world. An earthquake on the other side of the world today – actual or metaphorical – could affect you today in ways you probably cannot even imagine, including ways that didn’t exist yesterday. Not to mention the effects these factors could have on your customers, vendors, contractors, partners, colleagues, and counterparts in other departments and workgroups.

Everybody is under more pressure. The corporate order of the day is to run ever more lean and flexible. Squeeze more and more productivity and quality out of tightly controlled resources. Chase innovation and technology to keep from falling behind. Manage talent as a capital (depreciating) asset, in the wake of a profound transformation in the fundamental employer-employee relationship. After decades of constant downsizing, restructuring, and reengineering, employees no longer expect to pay their dues and climb the corporate ladder.

Job security has been dead for some time now. The default presumption of long-term hierarchical employment relationships has been replaced by a new presumptive career path built on a growing portfolio of short-term transactional employment relationships of varying scope and duration.

Never forget that most employees work because they must. They work to support themselves and their families. Most are pursuing some kind of intermediate and longer-term security, but today that plan is rarely contingent upon a long-term relationship with one particular employer. Very few employees now look at one employer as a primary source of their long-term career security, much less their long-term economic security.

The promise (implied or even explicit) of long-term vesting rewards from employers is no longer enough to get employees to perform today. Employees are less willing to follow orders, work harder, and contribute their best today in exchange for vague promises about what they might get in five years or ten years. Who knows where they’ll be in five or ten years? There is simply too much uncertainty.

Employees today want to know, “What do you want from me today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year? And what do you have to offer me in return today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year?”

Managers today are always in danger of losing good people. People come and go. People move around internally. These factors militate against continuity in working relationships. Sometimes those who are least likely to leave are the hardest to manage. Everybody is a special case.

The causes of the undermanagement epidemic dovetail with trend lines of the Great Generational Shift.

Managing people has become an ongoing (sometimes daily) negotiation. That is high maintenance!

At the same time, most managers, like most everybody else, are being asked to do more with less. They have more of their own non-management tasks and responsibilities, increased administrative burdens, and growing managerial spans of control, often including employees working in different locations or on different schedules, as well as depending more and more on people in other workgroups and departments. With so much resource and process streamlining, there is growing interdependency in almost everybody’s work. Everything we do now involves a lot of moving parts – we depend on so many other people – all the time.

Meanwhile, everybody involved is human. People have feelings. That’s a significant complication for everybody involved.

There are so many factors beyond any one manager’s control. Some may feel that problems have outgrown the fundamentals of management. They believe their situation is too complex, their challenges are too advanced. Most managers simply convince themselves that the fundamentals are simply no longer enough, or they just don’t have time.

What is the solution?

In the research conducted by RainmakerThinking, we have studied what the very best managers do that is different from the others: the managers whose employees consistently deliver the highest productivity and quality; with high retention of high performers and high turnover among low performers; with the best business outcomes and high morale and team spirit; whose direct-reports are most likely to describe them as “one of the best managers I’ve ever had.”

What is the common denominator among those managers? An abiding commitment to the fundamentals – relentless high-quality communication. Consistently engaging every direct-report in an ongoing, highly-structured, content-rich one-on-one dialogue about the work that needs to be done by that person. Things go much better when managers consistently make expectations clear and provide candid feedback for every individual every step of the way. Use team meetings only for what team meetings are good for – and make the most of them. When managers maintain high-quality one-on-one dialogues with their direct-reports, they almost always increase employee performance and morale, increase retention of high performers and turnover among low performers, and achieve significant measurable improvements in business outcomes.

Personnel Discontinuity

People come and go. That’s always been true. But employment relationships today are far more short-term and fluid than they have been before in the modern economy, so you are always losing good people. And you are always trying to get new people on-board and up-to speed. On top of that, one great employee is worth more than three or four or five mediocre employees. Sometimes you have to go to great lengths to effectively reward, retain, and develop the very best employees.

Constant Change Coming at You from Every Direction

Whether it’s technology, the markets, the weather, geopolitics, micropolitics, customer requirements, vendor requirements, or employee requirements – there is always something causing change and change regularly forces rework.


More and more of our work involves lots of moving parts and, therefore, lots of counterparts here, there, and everywhere. Most people must rely on many others within and without their immediate work group in order to do their own work.

Resource Constraints

Everybody is expected nowadays to do more with less. Increasingly, people report that they are making do with tighter and tighter resources, longer and more complex supply lines, with shorter and shorter lead times. Often people find themselves trying to do their jobs with what they feel are insufficient resources. 

Employees are Human

Human beings have weaknesses as well as strengths. Humans are not always great at self-management. They have habits, and not always good ones. Not only that, but everybody has bad days. Some people have bad weeks, months, and years. Productivity and quality of work are highly variable, sometimes due to employee performance. On top of all that, humans have attitudes, and not always good ones.

Bruce Tulgan

@BruceTulgan | LinkedIn | Website | Email

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders, best-selling author and keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company.

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