A study predicting that 40% of the US workforce will be self-employed by the year 2020 indicates just how much the gig economy will change the job landscape.  In the UK 30% of people are currently earning this way. Over the next few years we will see a marked change in the number and type of fixed job roles.  

So as more people become self-employed, will we need as many managers?  As more people work for themselves, it would be a logical to assume a reduced formal management structure.  According to the 2011 census, one in nine (10.9%) of the employed workforce in England and Wales is a ‘Manager, director or senior official’ (as cited in the ILM Research Paper 3, 2013) so this is worth attention.

A recent article suggests that it won’t be gardeners that lose their jobs to robots, but the managers of gardeners. It seems that touch, smell and vision are tricky human senses to automate, whereas reporting, accounting and handling company data are well within the reach of AI.  

If you are a task-orientated manager without much opportunity to regularly connect with your people/customer then this will require a studious rethink about how to remain useful in the decade ahead…

So, how fit are your leadership skills? And are you tracking the right bits? Systems can track your results, but only you can track your internal mindset and everyday behaviours throughout your leadership career. The most successful leaders of the future will be those with the soft skills to create strong emotional connections with people.

If you haven’t got one already, having a Personal Development Plan (PDP) is a useful bit of kit to help you transfer between projects, roles and organisations.  A PDP can be in whatever format you like, but if it has been a while since you reviewed and set some professional goals (or even just collated a folder of saved feedback emails) then make this a priority as a way to track your leadership fitness.  

Projects and priorities will come and go but you will be the one constant within your career.  Just watch you don’t get stuck getting busier and busier on tasks which could soon be outsourced to an AI or an intuitive robot such as Pepper.

So what’s it like being boss-less? I have worked for myself for nearly ten years now.  After the initial glee at being boss-free, there have been times when I have missed the concept of having a manager.  Someone to tell me to leave early on a Friday after a busy week, to help me prioritise a nightmare to-do list, or to acknowledge and appreciate pulling an all-nighter ahead of a deadline.  All that stuff that goes un-witnessed when you don’t report into a single person.  

Having said that: has every boss of yours done that for you? According to most employee engagement surveys, probably not.  So, like many freelancers, I ‘self-serve’ by surrounding myself with great people – clients, colleagues, suppliers, associates etc, and we all gee each other along as and when required.

As the gig economy increases, we will see even more shared public workspaces as team structures move from physical to virtual.  Because there are definitely times where we all need a bit of positive leadership in our lives.

So where do managers add their greatest value?  There’s so much going on in the world right now, how does a manager remain employable?  As Google continues to evolve its apps onto a neural network (AI), we too need to evolve what it means to be a great boss in the near future.  As more automation hits the white-collar jobs, there is still just about time to evolve.  

How? Move from the doing into the being of leadership.  Focus on what I call the 4C behaviours – caring, collaboration, curiosity and creativity.  These are trickier behaviours to automate because they defy pattern, so these will have a longer shelf life.  They require effort as each is a conscious choice to bother in that moment, so not everyone will want to do it.  

But as the volume of easy/routine jobs decreases, we might as well get practising now..  ‘How can I be more caring/collaborative/curious/creative today?’ could be the smartest daily question a manager asks.  Just think how great it will be to be led by a boss who thinks like that!

The robots are coming….who will be doing their annual appraisals?

Laura x