It is a paradox. Corporations are reducing the size of the work force and eliminating entire levels of management, even though the work force itself is shrinking and becoming more diverse.
Across the nation, companies such as Olin and Monsanto are searching for more effective ways to manage groups of employees diverse in age, gender, race and religion. White males will account for just 20 percent of all the people entering the labor force by the end of the century, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
More women will be entering the work force, more mothers with infants and more workers with dependents, say Olin's studies. The share of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities will increase.
"If someone were to tell me that I could only hire white male engineers, I would not be able to do that," says the director of an Olin technical operation. "The last group of Ph.D. engineering students we interviewed were predominantly women and minorities."
If they ever discriminated, today companies are recognizing that the make-up both of their work force and their market is determined by demographics. The consequence: companies are trying to be inclusive in hiring, training and promoting. Olin, for example, has established a Diversity Team to study ways to capitalize on the differences in the work force.
To deal with this and other new problems in the work force, companies are adopting training programs to upgrade management and technical skills.
One such program, from Blessing/White, Inc., a management development firm, tries to help managers become better coaches and employees become more independent.
Employers today seek to drive decision making downward. They want employees to take the initiative rather than follow the book.
This trend is particularly evident in the banking industry. As headquarters staffs become leaner, more is expected of the branch managers. The aim is to make branch managers entrepreneurial, to give them a sense of ownership of the branch, says Dr. Bernard L. Rosenbaum.
His firm, MOHR Development, Inc., Stamford, Conn., conducts training programs that encourage branch managers to become more independent -- to develop their own plans rather than follow headquarters blindly.
Many banks also are conducting programs to make tellers better problem solvers. In the past, banks tried to improve customer service by teaching their employees to be courteous.
"This didn't work at all," Dr. Rosenbaum says. "The very nature of banking guarantees there always will be problems like statement errors or lost deposit slips. These make customers angry. Faced with angry customers, the employee becomes defensive and forgets about the courtesy training.
"It's far better to train employees to take the initiative in solving the problem. That's the best way to improve customer service. Again, it's a matter of making the employee entrepreneurial."
Dr. Rosenbaum also reports that employers are helping employees who often don't get the respect they deserve to raise their voices. Example: They're training research scientists to sell their ideas within their companies. Why? Because scientists, who generally are poor at communicating, often have trouble getting approval to continue their research, and emerging technologies get lost.
The problem is particularly acute where scientists are part of multidisciplinary teams and the support of different departments needed.
The advice these programs give scientists is for anyone who needs cooperation from others. Some of the tips:
* Consider the political as well as technical and financial implications of your proposal.
* Focus on your proposal's major benefits rather than recite a long list. Stress the benefits that are most important to the people you are addressing now.
* Ask for commitment assertively. If you've done your job in presenting the benefits you're justified in being assertive.
Dr. Rosenbaum also reports that managers of technical professionals are being trained to handle the technical workers better. As work teams get larger and more interdisciplinary teams are formed, managers without technical experience find themselves managing more technical workers.
Even specialists who become managers need help: Most were promoted to their jobs because of their technical rather than managerial skills. And they learned little about management at their technical schools.
Technical professionals need a different kind of management. Dr. Rosenbaum says, "They tend to identify more strongly with their profession than with their employer. They're hypersensitive about the conditions, pace and content of their work. They often want a high degree of autonomy. They insist that their work be challenging."