**This is an old revision of the document!**

Career Future

When your job no longer demands more than you have, do something else. - Harlan Cleveland, The Future Executive

During the next two decades most jobs will change in content and responsibility. These changes already are under way at an accelerating rate. It is appropriate to take a look toward the future and consider how the professional and management person can prepare himself for the changes that will take place.

Today, for an increasing number of people, work is a way of being. It takes up more than half the waking hours of millions of Americans. Its impact reaches into all parts of living. If it can be managed, work might just as well be enjoyable, satisfying, growth-building – self-actualizing.

In the last half of the seventies, two major events influenced changes in thinking. These were acceleration of married women in the workforce and imports from Japan. In 1980, for the first time in the U.S., working wives outnumbered housewives. And the quality and pricing of Japanese imports made it necessary for executives to look into Japanese manufacturing processes and especially their concepts of human resource utilization.


The level of job satisfaction is dropping. Half would not stay in their jobs, given a chance. Actions to reverse this trend are being implemented by government and private enterprise to bring radical changes to the “game plan” of work.

An example of a problem faced by a Swedish automaker shows what is happening. The company suddenly was faced with the possibility that it might be unable to get needed employees and managers. Employment statistics showed that very few of the people who had graduated from the country's high schools and colleges within the past three years had been hired by the company. Almost all the new personnel had been “imported” on one-, two-, and three-year contracts, the maximum time limit that is permitted by Swedish law.

The temporary nature of their employment made training and development costly and excessively expensive. The company studied its operations and the attitudes of potential new employees who were nationals. The findings convinced the company to make radical revisions in its management attitudes and in the work itself. As these improvements became known, local recruitment began to grow.

Several European countries have more than one foreign employee to eleven nationals, with Switzerland importing almost 30 percent of its employees. Virtually half the employees in many of the companies in these countries are foreigners. The foreign employees originally are regarded as “cheap labor,” in much the same way high school dropouts are usually viewed in the United States. But just as in Sweden, the European countries now are finding costs higher than they appear on the surface. Such high costs have prompted companies to give a new, higher priority to the need for changing management systems.

In the United States, similar costs and needs were put into the national spotlight by the 1969 disorders at “Lordstown.” Young, educated employees of General Motors' most modern assembly facility rebelled against the “inhuman” working conditions required by the plant's automated systems.

Again, the Tarrytown (N.Y.) facility of General Motors was on its list for potential closure, when a decision was made to use it as an experimental site for introduction of QC (quality control) circles or teams. These are semiautonomous teams of workers who focus on specific tasks and have shared responsibility for good quality production. The idea was adapted from Japanese manufacturers. Within 18 months, the quality and output of that factory had moved from bottom to top in productivity of all GM plants.

The composition of women workers has also changed. There are six million children under six whose mothers work, usually because their pay is needed to make ends meet. And there are millions more working mothers of teenage and younger children. Women occupy two thirds of all part-time jobs (more than 11 million of the 17 million people who work less than 35 hours weekly). Some of them pair off and share full-time jobs. Control Data Corporation has led the way in employing women part-time, with prorated benefits. Deep changes in how men and women work have been influenced by the financial and personal needs of women to affirm and maintain their identities.

And legal changes are happening. In 1978 California passed a law which encourages companies in recession periods to retain employees by sharing the workload through a reduced workweek. Some of the lost pay is returned in the form of an unemployment (tax-free) benefit. Where one fifth of the workweek (one day) is cut, the employees get one fifth of a day's pay as an unemployment benefit. Under this law, more than 20,000 workers have retained their jobs on a four-day basis during the last two years, and 850 companies have been involved in this variety of part-time employment.

These changes are by no means isolated examples. There already is momentum in the move to change work, to change the kinds of managers who will coordinate the changes, and to change the specifications for personnel at all levels. The changes will not be static; they will be part of a continuing movement. Many men and women who try to resist this movement will be hurt after a relatively short time. Those prepared to recognize and manage these changes through cooperation with them will find more opportunities for fulfillment in their work.

Forecasting the dimensions of human endeavor is, to say the least, an inexact art. Yet there are signs to show that professionals and managers can expect many things. Some of these will appear desirable; others may not. Let's look at a few.

Virtually all jobs will tend to be more complex and will have increased responsibility. Leadership and decision making will be delegated downward, with the management layer becoming thinner and some levels of management even being eliminated.

Management style will be participative to a greater extent. It will include consultations among and with those doing the work as a way of reaching at superior decisions on activities that influence all. A new influence will be much in evidence in both public and private organizations: the public interest and the ombudsman.

There will be more task force approaches to getting things done, with temporary leaders for such groups. Sometimes these leaders will be appointed; sometimes they will be group-selected; sometimes self-selected. This will make leadership at some levels an occasional thing, with no impact of career backsliding when the task is completed and the leadership assignment ends. This occurs in the military when “spot promotions” are given officers while on a special assignment. When they complete the assignments they revert to their original grades.

Sometimes this kind of leadership will be a training experience; sometimes it will arise because of special expertise. But, as mentioned, it will not always be long-term or permanent leadership.

New key executives may be increasingly hired for trial periods, perhaps three to six months, and continue on only if the “chemistry” of the relationship is mutually approved as satisfactory. If not, termination pay for a year would be paid to give the executive sufficient time to obtain other employment and to compensate for the inconvenience.

Professional Career Ladders

Professional and scientific personnel certainly will have a ladder of advancement that parallels that of management. It is likely to happen much sooner, if only because the growing strength of employee organizations will cause this long-spoken promise of management to be fulfilled. The longer this action is delayed, the more surely management risks alienation of these key people. Their help is essential if present and future executives are to establish effective participative management and increase manpower utilization at all levels.

At management, executive, and professional levels there will be greater need for the ability to negotiate. Relationships will have to be established that stimulate the resolution of conflicts and the progress of work. Goals and intermediate objectives must be established in ways that encourage the attainment of goals as well as their modification if checks show this to be desirable. There needs to be more flexibility in acceptance of changing work demands and team organization to meet those demands. Openness is required in the use of work modules to permit team or task force members to adjust their times at work to allow added freedom for new learning, or even just relaxing. Flextime work has become increasingly available.

Part-time employees will have to be accepted at all levels, occasionally because they have special skills, but more often because that is the mode of work they choose.

Throughout there will be increasing need for the ability to communicate at meetings and conferences in full knowledge that from time to time the breakthrough efforts or ideas will be “keyed-in” by independent contributors. Of course, with all these changes, there will be much experimentation in jobs. TV conferences already are “in.”

The complexities will be ever enlarging for key executives, and their rewards probably will be limited financially. They also will be limited psychologically by the knowledge that they cannot take full credit for what happens - and must not - because to do so would tend to destroy the morale of those who contributed to their achievements. The job of executives will be orchestration, the catalysis of experts and other employees into a harmony of movement toward desired goals. This is not to say there will not be discord. People somehow have a need to sharpen themselves through properly handled discord. The key executives will need to be masters at encouraging modification of the attitudes and behavior of people so that progress may be insured. They will be masters of negotiation, compromise, coordination of efforts and ideas, and conflict management.

Tomorrow's leaders will be concerned with the environmental and public impact of their goals and decisions. They will need to cope with more uncertainties, and make the best possible decisions on the basis of available expertise, data, and a dash of their own hunches. Because their decisions and activities will take place in an atmosphere of accelerating change, changes that seriously affect business and public life, they will need to be sharper in discerning their own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others. But their emotional thrust will be to use their strengths optimistically rather than to remain inert because they fear their weaknesses. Since they will know there is no one final system or set of techniques that “work,” they will be open to experimentation, however cautious it may be.

The pace of change continues to be aided by scores of conferences on “changing work ethics,” “work and productivity,” “career changing,” and “productivity.” Associated conferences relate to “inflation,” and productivity is a central component of those. Mostly they focus on tax write-offs of investments in capital goods, and rarely are concerns raised about the possibilities of human capital productivity.

The changes in attitude have been linked to increased education and to the communications media, particularly television. With greater education and knowledge, neither of which necessarily implies wisdom, more people feel they would like a piece of the action.

They want more say in the decisions that impact on their lives. They are getting their wish, and both government and business are finding there is cash payoff in enabling workers to participate in decision making. The same holds true in regard to restructuring jobs to give employees increased responsibilities. Such changes, generally called job enrichment, substantially reduce absenteeism, increase output and quality of work, and increase morale, which tends to sustain the gains.

The great majority of employed persons say they are not interested in higher productivity. At the same time most believe that they themselves could be more productive. They believe their productivity could rise between 20 and 50 percent. Majority of managers believe individual productivity could rise 40 percent and more.

The heavy-handed boss who just gives orders is not the style of manager who gets cooperation from today's employees. Rather, the participative management style is more likely to influence the cooperation and productivity that everyone desires.

However desirable the new management style might sound, it is new territory for most professional and management people. It is tough to imagine being a team leader or manager on one task, and later being a special contributor or team member on another. What about pay? What about employment security? What about career obsolescence? What about promotions? What about job titles?

There are no clear answers to these questions, but many companies already are facing them in small ways, and each is endeavoring to develop temporary answers. One thing is clear: the “answers” arrived at in the very near future are likely to change.

Only a few companies are known to be approaching the participative management-job enrichment systems from the viewpoint of the individual as well as from the viewpoint of the organization, the task, or the group.

The individual is provided with a career planning manual or personal counseling. All are designed to help him identify his strengths, develop his own goals, be prepared to coordinate his goals with those of his department or section, and otherwise contribute on the basis of self-knowledge to whatever job enrichment and organizational development process may be going on.

This program is seen as adding a deeper level of involvement to the job enrichment-participative management approaches.

All these changes will lead to more, which are as yet unknown. Throughout the changes, ordinary people with increasing levels of information and education will need to keep their cool as best they can. Many of those who resist the changes will lose their jobs and be forced to adapt. Some will be able to resist change and manipulate job maintenance. Most will be carried along by means of training and retraining, self- and formal education programs, and sheer luck. Increasing numbers will press for job satisfaction, shorter workweeks, and flexible hours. Some will achieve the continuity, adaptability, and status fluidity needed for movement toward using and developing their potential - and attaining “self-actualization.”

Men and women who know their strengths and are aware of the risks associated with not using them, or using too little of them, will tend to be alert to the training and educational programs they need for continued growth. They also will know that growth is not necessarily, or all the time, a matter of promotion or climbing the management ladder. They will have the security of knowing they are valued for who they are and for their contributions and achievements. They will live well and be self-actualizing persons. They probably will find it possible to give less time to the job and more time to community-enriching activities. “Community,” in this sense, includes service anywhere in the United states and the world. They will find themselves enriching persons, as well as enriched by their varied experiences, which include their work and their family lives.

In the future there are likely to be, in my opinion, two shifts of three-day-a-week workers, people who are highly productive because they find self-expression in what they are doing both on the job and outside it.

Senior high schools now have in many curricula career planning courses to identify skills, to help students know themselves and be more discriminating in selection of courses that are most likely to fulfill them as persons and as employees. Similar courses are available in many colleges, and both levels of education are offering - in many parts of the country - adult instruction in career renewal, job changing, second career development, and retirement planning.

Talent Obsolescence Factor

Although rapid obsolescence of talent is produced by the dynamics of today's enterprises, a credible goal for the future is self-realization through useful and interesting work.

Futurist Herman Kahn was tougher. He said there would be forced retraining or retirement of the American worker. Fortune editor Max Ways said that any specific job or skills can become obsolete.

With such comments there was mention of the probability that “career insurance“ would be introduced. This would require organizations to counsel, retrain, and perhaps provide income-maintenance allowances to those whose skills have become obsolete.

There is a socio-cultural revolution that is making fast progress. It will require that industry become more concerned with social responsibility and encourage its professionals, managers, and all other workers to become extensively involved in community concerns. This might develop into a “humanistic capitalism,” which includes the structuring of jobs to fit people.


The person who completes the skills identification procedures will be able to make concrete suggestions on how his job should be restructured but probably will also be ahead of the trend through self-restructuring of his own job.

The change in value systems throughout the country, stimulated by more widespread education, TV, and other communication systems as well as by affluence and rising expectations, also contributes to the changes and uncertainties most people are experiencing. It now is clear to many that the United States is more of an amalgam of cultures from all parts of the world than a melting pot in which all are integrated. This point is proved by the success of periodic political appeals to ethnic groups. This sharper diversity in values is accentuated by global business, global tourism, and the crises of international trade and monetary rates. At the same time, these different value systems are necessitating the need to collaborate, to interchange employees, to understand, to appreciate, and to learn from one another, especially in inter-global interactions.

All these factors affect employment and add to its complexity and pace of change. For some, they will mean a worse “rat race.” But private and public employers can't afford the low productivity induced by the continuation of the rat race. Working environments will change, and are changing, to provide opportunity for each person to have greater job satisfaction. But in the main, the thrust has been to hope the individual knows what is best for him and at the same time to be sure the organization does what it knows will be best for it and provide improvements for employees, which in turn will enhance the benefits to the organization.

This benevolent manipulation will be upgraded to true involvement as more and more organizations and persons use all the behavioral science and humanistic developments.

One of the interesting symptoms of the new social revolution is the “marriage” of technology with non-structured religious activity. It may be caused by the rising complexities and frustrations, but there is no longer any doubt about a broad and rising interest in East-West religions, an appreciation of the mysteries that underlie natural forces like electricity, and mysteries associated with the different names given to God. The search for peace of mind, the search for meaning, and the search for scientific progress are being mentioned more and more frequently in the news.

It could be said that when a person looks for the best in himself, really tries to identify his strengths and develop them, he is concerned with finding a way to let his light shine. If he encourages others to look for the best in themselves, he is helping to forge a society in which each person might relate to the best in others.

The person who can add his own self-understanding not only is moving with the tide but also is part of it.

A person can only do so much by himself. This is why the small group and multiples of those groups are important. This enables a person to sort through the combined experiences of his life, see clearly those parts he would like to repeat and improve on, and do his best to forget the others. That's the kind of thing a good merchant does repeatedly. At least once a year he takes inventory to find out which items are out of date - the ones that will not produce a profit - and charges them off as losses either through special sales or in some other way. Not all items are seen as having equal value; that would be poor business. The “write-offs” enable the true assets to be valued. Everything else is charged off.

This enables the person to apply that same business viewpoint to his motivated skill assets. If he carries the weight of his weaknesses on the books for a long time, and gives them equal or more attention (“Learn from your mistakes,” “Find out what you did wrong,” and so forth), he will experience frustration and occupational bankruptcy.

The team approach prevents a person from lapsing into the rat race mentality, because it requires him to come up with achievement experiences.

It reinforces his self-understanding and prevents fade-out of the benefits that derive from knowing his motivated skills. The group prods him to, look at new ways to adapt his strengths and to investigate careers that support his sense of job freedom.

The process of looking for the best is not limited to the job. It is of tremendous value in all kinds of team efforts and conferences, including the team effort called “family,” and the one called “vacation.” As a kind of final word to the reader, the following three approaches are given with the intent that they stimulate you to develop more ways of identifying strengths to fit your own special conditions.

The team that begins a task, whether it is a meeting or an activity, without first enabling each to have reason for respecting the others is missing an opportunity. If the group is no larger than ten, each can be given two or three minutes to think about what he feels have been his greatest achievements related to the purposes of the team. Then, in no more than two minutes, each should relate one of those experiences to the others. This establishes a climate in which each sees himself and the others as achievers and gains some idea of where and how he relate to the others as an achiever.

Wherever this approach has been used it has increased mutual respect, insured cooperation, and led to improved productivity individually and collectively. The suggestion is that all team meetings should begin with this confidence- and respect-building climate.

My spouse and I have developed a different approach to vacation planning. After each vacation we separately write down those parts of it we enjoyed most and those we found obstacles to enjoyment, as well as the ones each of us felt was unique. We then exchange what we have written, find agreements, discuss the others to get mutual understanding, and abstract things we agree we would like to build into future vacations (and some we want to be sure to avoid). This has helped us have several more enjoyable vacations and also plan with more intelligence the purchase of a vacation home.

We also follow a similar approach as a “family team.” Each new year, we make our separate lists of happiest experiences each had during the past year; happiest experiences we believe we shared; our greatest achievements and disappointments of the year. Then we exchange, read and discuss.

Our discussions always have increased our understanding and appreciation of each other. Each year we have brought up things the other didn't know about, sometimes concealed hurts, sometimes unrecognized happiness. After we are through, we independently list our preliminary goals for the year as the first steps to planning for their attainment or modification. From time to time during the year we review progress, achievements, and changes. Many times during the year we meet with a small group to talk about achievements and reinforce each other's progress.

Management is being compelled more and more to consider the sociological results of its economic activities. Management must shift its mode from one of fitting men to positions to one of fitting positions to men. It recommended the use of techniques which encourages a man to think of himself in a systematic way, looking at his multiple experiences, taking a bit from here and a bit from there, to prove he can perform an apparently unrelated set of functions.

There was choice then. But the time had not come when men and women faced the “must change career” syndrome that is part of our present way of life. The shocks of career obsolescence already have confronted a few million people, including a goodly proportion of those in management and the professions. Today, we have a system that helps people gain recognition of their unique skills.

It has cost industry and government billions of dollars to train and retrain those whose skills were made obsolete by technology and international trade. The men and women themselves would have identified the kinds of jobs they could change to without training, or with minimum training.

The coming changes already have eliminated, on a small scale, many management jobs and have at the same time created some new ones. You cannot afford to risk being unprepared for these unknown changes. You will need to know your motivated skills so you can influence your job changes from time to time within your organization. If you don't, you will be advised on the changes the organization wants and where it thinks you fit in. Of course, in the latter situation, you will be expected to make suggestions. But unless you have undertaken some process to identify your strengths, your input will be based on only the hope that it will work out.

If you really want job freedom, you will need to want it for others around you as well as for yourself. You cannot have it just for yourself.


To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you cannot long have freedom and •job satisfaction while others have rising expectations and lack it. You will need to be part of a win-win system, one that enlarges the pie so each may have a bigger piece, one in which the kind of competition that exists is involved with being your best more consistently and encouraging others, by your example, to do the same.

This does not mean harder work, but rather easier work and probably fewer hours. It will be work at which you are wiser in the application of your skills, so that you enjoy using them. Through this knowledge you find the kind of growth you want and, you learn to live the quality of life you can value most.

Society | Self-Help | Work

QR Code
QR Code career_future (generated for current page)