The Death and Life of Management

A Global BCG Survey Uncovers Rising Dissatisfaction Among Managers and Unwillingness Among Workers to Become Bosses. Agile Can Be an Antidote to This Existential Crisis

PARIS—Managers are feeling more overworked, more stressed, and less supported than they did just a few years ago, with 81% of Western managers—85% in France—saying their job is tougher than it was, according to a global survey of 5,000 employees commissioned by Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Only one in ten Western nonmanagers said that they aspire to become a manager, setting the stage for a shortage of supervisors.

On the bright side, two-thirds of managers recognize that their jobs will undergo major change within the next five years, and emerging new ways of working, such as agile, could alleviate many of the frustrations reported by managers and employees alike. By creating empowered, cross-functional, and autonomous teams, for example, agile could help soften the number-one frustration of Western managers: the need to execute decisions they disagree with.

“The survey clearly shows that managers are struggling and that the current management model is no longer sustainable,” said Vinciane Beauchene, a BCG managing director and partner. “Agile is a promising alternative that can help cure many of the challenges that managers and their employees reported in the survey.”

The survey was conducted in five countries: China, France, Germany, the UK, and the US. In each country, 1,000 employees, at least 30% of them managers, responded.

A Breaking Point

Less than half of Western managers said that the advantages of the job outweigh the disadvantages. Specifically, 71% said they are more overworked, and 69%—and even higher levels in France and the UK—said they are more stressed than they were a few years ago.

Remarkably, only 37% of Western managers said they would like to remain a manager in five to ten years, and only 41%—48% in the US and 32% in France—said that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. Among nonmanagers, only 9% said they aspired to become a manager in the next five to ten years. Nearly twice as many, 17%, would prefer an expert position without management responsibilities, and 28% hope to have stopped working by then. Nearly one-quarter, or 24%, said they would prefer to stay in their current job rather than accept a promotion. In Germany, nearly one-third, or 31%, said they preferred to stay put.

Overall, managers are lost in translation. Despite their discontent and disengagement, they don’t know what to do to improve their job. Asked how they would reallocate their time in an ideal world, most managers responded with only small changes to what they do today. Nearly two-thirds, or 63%, are looking for clarification of their roles.

In Search of a Better Way

The survey captures management in a state of flux. Two-thirds of managers globally—78% in China—recognize that their roles will change substantially over the next five years. Western managers have specific ideas about what they dislike and like about their jobs. They want more autonomy, as noted earlier, more control over their workload, and greater recognition from their supervisors. On the positive side, they take great satisfaction in helping their teams develop skills and make progress, in being recognized by their teams, and in helping to organize the work of their teams.

Agile to the Rescue

Fortunately, many new ways of working and management models, such as agile, have emerged in recent years. Agile takes its inspiration from the way that modern software and web developers work (fast, experimental, cooperative, and empowering). It has moved into more traditional industries such as banking and automotive manufacturing.

Managers play a very different role with agile. Agile teams are largely self-managed, so top-down decision-making is less prevalent. These teams are also cross-functional, so many of the coordination activities that consume so much of managers’ time are handled seamlessly within the team.

The traditional role of manager is replaced by new roles, such as product owners, who help set the team vision and manage tradeoffs; chapter leads, who help develop skills and careers; and coaches, who work on team dynamics.

These roles may help alleviate many of the frustrations of today’s managers. But the people who fill them need to be willing to act as “servant leaders” rather than in a command-and-control manner. They will likely need training and coaching in these new ways of working. Meanwhile, companies will need to rethink their career paths and their reward and recognition models.

In agile companies, managers and employees alike respond enthusiastically to the autonomy and alignment that agile provides. “In a world of increasing speed and uncertainty, the days of top-down, trickle-down decision-making are coming to an end,” Beauchene said. “Agile is a promising alternative that can improve cooperation, employee engagement, and innovation.”

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or

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