What are we to make of the following statistic? According to a survey of 344 U.S. workers conducted by the consulting firm BlessingWhite, the idea that someone’s immediate manager in a company “is the main reason people consider leaving is an outdated concept—three quarters (75%) of respondents do not credit managers with such influence.”
Maybe managers have become so fantastically good that rarely do they cause anyone to want to leave. Or maybe, as other survey results suggest, something else is at play.
BlessingWhite also found that “a substantial majority (72%) believe they personally have the biggest control over their next career move (as opposed to their manager or the company they work for).” What’s more, “a significant portion (44%) of employees would rather be working for themselves.”
All in all, workers are “becoming increasingly individualistic and managed outside of the rigid company-driven structures of yesteryear,” BlessingWhite concluded, adding that employers must realize this or “face increasing retention challenges going forward.”
None of this should shock the modern student of business or management, but it underscores points that Peter Drucker started making decades ago. The first, as we’ve noted more than once, is that knowledge workers are much more mobile than other sorts of employees. Their means of production resides in large part between their ears, and they can walk off with it.
The second point is that managers, while crucial, are not omnipotent. As such, they are no longer all-important to their direct subordinates. “In a society of organizations there are no masters,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “The manager is not a master. He is a superior, but he is a fellow employee.” Even the chief executive has no servants, merely “fellow employees.”
Drucker offered additional thoughts in Managing in a Time of Great Change. “Because the modern organization consists of knowledge specialists, it has to be an organization of equals, of colleagues and associates,” he wrote. “No knowledge ranks higher than another. . . Therefore, the modern organization cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team.”