Regular readers will know that there are certain things that raise the hackles here at T Recs, amongst them are:
- Gratuitous generational stereotyping
- Gratuitous use of the phrase ‘War for Talent’
- Churnalism…particularly the unquestioning reporting of self-serving research passing itself off as insight.
Hence it will come as no surprise that HR Magazine’s ‘Global war for talent will intensify as baby boomer leaders retire’ scored a complete full house on Merv’s bullshit bingo scorecard.
Not sure what’s more frustrating…that an executive search firm felt the need to release this self-serving guff or that a respected online news resource felt obliged to re-print the press release in the name of ‘journalism’.
So we have a search firm commissioning a report – the grandly titled ‘After the baby boomers; The next generation of leadership’ – which was conducted through telephone interviews with 100 senior executives between 2010 and 2012. I’m guessing that some of the 2010 conversations may be a little out of date now.
There is an executive summary of findings which contains sections with titles like:
- The war for talent will intensify
- Most organisations underserve female markets
- The feminisation of leadership
- Organisations need to ease the intergenerational transition
The opening statement is:
Should it matter to our future leadership that the world is undergoing unprecedented demographic, gender and cultural change? Or that a whole cohort of leadership, characterised by the baby boomer era, is about to step down? Is it possible for organisations to be ‘prepared’ for such fundamental changes and adapt to a different style f management? Or, as one respondent said about the next generation of leaders, “They may think about the world in a different way but that doesn’t make them poor leaders.”
And the conclusion is:
To continue to thrive, organisations must:
- Transfer knowledge, by coaching, mentoring and codification.
- Re-evaluate their organisational structure, including their incentive philosophy, and how they recruit and retain talent.
- Build cultural awareness, designing leadership programmes that develop cultural diversity, flexibility and people skills.
I’m sure it’s a comfort to have Odgers around to help out, given that the next few years will clearly be the first time since before the industrial revolution that business leaders come up to retirement age and hand over to younger leaders. I’ll bet they’re glad that it’s been pointed out to them that they need to be grooming their new leaders, no doubt an easy thing to overlook when you’re running a large organisation.
Apparently only 41% of those interviewed thought their organisations ready ‘for the changing workplace demographics of age, gender and diversity’ but then a closer examination of the report shows only 9% believing their businesses to be not ready. (More scaremongering).
Now if you’ll allow me some generational stereotyping of my own, firms like Odgers and Deloittes (who authored the Gen Y research written about in my last blog) are, shall we say, Boomer organisations. They seem to have an unhealthy obsession with how different young people are.
And if the earlier section headings are anything to go by, women too. They even make a point in the introduction of mentioning that 30% of the leaders spoken to were women, whilst the use of the word ‘feminisation‘ to describe emotional intelligence and people skills is telling.
The generation of 45+year old business leaders have been well served by these Boomer organisations. They’ve found staff for them, helped them in their own careers, come in to do consulting around new projects and structures, and maybe, just maybe, those Boomer organisations are beginning to feel the winds of change themselves.
The next generation of business leaders may well have found shiny new ways to source talented staff, promote their own careers, and check the viability and feasibility of new projects and structures.
So maybe these attempts at creating a perceived problem for their core markets, that requires a solution that they can then help provide, are really just cries for help?
Here’s the blueprint – identify a problem with the young, developing workforce. Legitimise and amplify it by dressing the problem up as research or with a white paper (involving an academic or another Boomer organisation for extra effect) then offer simple solutions worded in a complex, serious way so that only by using your services will they be able to fully grasp and implement what needs to be done.
Well, you know something… I’m guessing most successful business leaders know this stuff already and know what needs to be done… and the younger, emerging leaders have a fairly good idea where to start cutting the budgets.
As a regular attendee and blogger at CIPD events I like the way they have got involved in, and tried to shape, conversations around youth unemployment and opportunities for tomorrow’s workforce.
In their centenary year it seems fitting that an organisation that came in to being with an aim to get children out of the workplace should now be spearheading efforts to get them in to work. I wrote about the Our Young People project last year and have written elsewhere about their newly launched research ‘Employers are from Mars, Young people are from Venus’.
However, mixed in between the learning and networking at the recent CIPD HRD conference were presentations of a different type that I could have done without…the dreaded ‘How to get the best out of/understand/manage/up-skill Gen Y’ bilge.
One speaker, a senior HR/Learning person from a major UK plc, hid behind the Deloitte Gen Y research with the usual generalisations – sense of entitlement, used to being placed on pedestals, lack of proactivity, dreamers, unrealistic – and even gave us an interesting conundrum. They don’t get information from people but prefer to source it online. This was seen as a problem as decisions are usually made in meetings. Yet barely two minutes later the presenter told us how difficult it was to organise internal meetings, problems over aligning diaries etc, whilst her 19 year old son can arrange a get together within a couple of minutes online. Opportunity or threat?
Further comments such as ‘They’ve grown up in times of an economic boom’ are clearly nonsense as anyone born ‘93 onwards has hit adolescence in a time of global recession, but that doesn’t stop them being presented as perceived wisdom. We were also told they are the most researched generation, with more data existing on them than any other…I quite liked Matt Charney’s observation…
In all honesty, I’m getting more and more uneasy with this type of conversation, not just because there’s so much of it and its nonsense anyway, but because it’s really just stereotyping whole groups of people by certain perceived traits, somehow to imply that they are inferior, different or require special treatment. Yes, I do find it worryingly close to racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and the rest by a different name.
The casualness of the way stereotypes are bandied around makes me particularly uneasy. The ‘I know about this because I have a teenage child’ line is really just ‘some of my best friends are’ using other words. People who spout generationalisationisms don’t really mean it, they love them really, they’re important because they can use social networking etc…just like casual racism and sexism.
I don’t think this has any place at an HR conference, either here on in the US – check out Laurie Ruettimann’s blog on this subject, written after her experiences at a US HR conference the same week as the CIPD event.
Different people bring different skills to the workplace, and different ages bring different perspectives. An understanding of the different social, cultural, economic and academic influences that shape these perspective and values is one thing.
But discrimination is discrimination, and age discrimination works two ways. HR above all people should not have these crass, and untrue, generalisations anywhere near their mind-set…
Some readers may remember a TV ad campaign a few years ago aimed at getting more people interested in teaching as a career. Most scenes showed a child engaged with learning in school and the strap line was…
You never forget a good teacher
It came to mind during a fairly dull session at last week’s CIPD HRD 2013 conference when an L&D professional was running through some, quite frankly, very dull content. He talked tools, measurement and the like but it was done in such a listless manner that it moved me to tweet…
I’m lucky enough to be connected to a number of inspiring and creative learning types (check out #ldconnect) so I know that people with a real passion for learning are out there. (Some were in attendance, sadly not on stage but in the audience as guest bloggers). Some tweeted back straight away…
I couldn’t help but reminisce on several previously overheard workplace conversations over the years. You know the ones…I’m sure we’ve all heard them…
‘Two day training course next week’
‘I know. There’s a new system they want us to learn about/supposedly they’re going to help me be a better manager/they’re bringing in some new performance review thing/seems our engagement scores are too low’ (delete where appropriate)
‘Sounds like a yawn’
‘Well at least it gets me away from the desk’
‘Yeah, but think of all the e-mails you’ll go back to’
‘Actually you’re right about that. I may cry off the course. Pressure of work ‘n all that’
Too many L&D sessions at the conference seemed to follow the route of programmes, metrics and ROI, tools and feedback scores. Perspiration instead of inspiration. Ticking boxes not engaging hearts and minds.
Then I went to a session that was different. Neil Morrison and Jo Mallia of Random House were talking about ‘Transition of Leaders – Applying a Cultural Mind-shift Change’. Here was a different vision of L&D, more along the inspiration lines, making learning sound fun, enlightening and vital Their people were ‘like sponges’ eager to learn more and improve. OK Neil did explain that publishing tends to attract people with curious minds, but still I felt in little doubt that having the right approach, with passionate and creative people, created a learning culture.
Their industry needed it too. Publishing is facing many challenges and needs new ways of thinking and a new mind-set. Jo fosters collaboration and group thinking, setting free the ‘pink elephants’ (mavericks)
It wasn’t surprising that in the final questions one delegate called the session, to much applause, the best thing they had seen over the 2 day conference. You can read more on Mr Airmiles’ blog.
I’m sure there were many worthy presentations over the 2 day CIPD HRD Conference from L&D professionals who have a real belief in what they do, the importance and value of it. Too many that I went to sounded bland, delivered in front of busy, indecipherable power point slides. Whether this is down to the people who gave them, or the way that their work is perceived in their organisations I’m not sure. Many were from large organisations with programmes, so perhaps it’s telling that the two presentations that seemed to most engage the audience, and the assembled bloggers, were…
- Random House – the one from Neil and Jo where heads of HR and L&D stood together, an aligned approach
- Hanover Housing – a small business doing interesting things
The words that kept cropping up to describe both sessions were passion, inspiration, belief and purpose – maybe the benchmark words for Learning & Development (or People Development) that leaders should use when choosing their specialists…and conferences their presenters.
“Pity the child who has ambition, knows what he wants to do
Knows that he’ll never fit the system others expect him to” (Chess)
When I blogged about youth unemployment just over a year ago I pointed out that many of the traditional lower skilled entry level jobs within the economy were now being done by unemployed graduates. The level of youth unemployment had been rising since 2001 and the level attributable to 16-18 year olds (ie those leaving school at 16) was close to 50%, with the very real possibility that many of those would never know permanent, full time work.
And when I blogged about the future organisation I drew attention to the fact that the UK is a world leader in underutilising the skills of its graduates.
Well, another week another group of articles appear in my timeline all with views on what tomorrow’s workforce need to do to be ready for work. You know tomorrow’s workforce… the one whose hard work and taxes will pay for our pensions, healthcare and the like.
First up was Allister Heath suggesting that we stop encouraging kids to go to university. He tells us that only 5 of the 30 fastest growing professions in 2020 will require a university degree and 10 will require no qualification at all. The first three he mentions are retail sales staff, food preparation (including fast-food restaurant jobs) and customer service reps…all roles that graduates currently do. I’m guessing that business to business sales people don’t really need a degree either but having one has largely been a pre-requisite for these roles for years.
Unsurprisingly for a right of centre commentator, especially one who also speaks for the Taxpayers Alliance, it’s the State’s fault that graduates end up as baristas…as if the private sector never wanted better educated trainees. They don’t need further education, they need work experience and traineeships which the State has to enable and guarantee. So having got the kids to largely fund their own further education it now needs to be replaced by state/taxpayer funded work experience. “To many employers, university education has become little more than a signalling device, a means to filter out potential staff” he identifies.
And there’s also a strong recommendation for Gove’s sepia tinged longing for applied maths, Latin and cold showers…whereas I would have thought programming and communication would be much more important. Soft skills for a social world.
The view from the US was more optimistic and creative. Children shouldn’t be college ready but innovation ready – “We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative”.
No longer will they be able to ‘find’ a job as previous generations have, but instead will need to ‘invent’ a job. As Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner says:
“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, but they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.
We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose”
Clearly the view here is one of optimism and opportunity. Instead of relegating much of the future workforce to a life of shifting low paid work, and turning the clock back for education, as Heath seems to suggest, in the US article they look to Finland’s innovative economy “They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing”
Back to corporate UK and we had the Homebase example. Here you had a major company recommending that store managers make use of the free labour available through workfare to do the work that may otherwise require paid employees – with an internal document bearing the message:
How the work experience program can benefit your store.
Would 750 hours with no payroll costs help YOUR store?
So is this the ultimate future for the lower skilled workforce? A variable cost, paid by the taxpayer to provide free labour to the private sector in the hope that this may help them secure a paid assignment elsewhere?
And finally we square the circle with the latest research from the New Employment Foundation. A perfect conundrum:
“Those with good graduate degrees are facing months of unemployment or free interning in order to gain access to paid work. Those with no or few qualifications are being left out in the cold”
“Graduates who “dumb down” their employment aspirations can find themselves stuck in low-skilled jobs for years”
So there we have it. You don’t need a degree because most future jobs don’t need one…but then if you haven’t got a degree you may not be considered for the jobs that don’t need one.
And if you take any job, because work must pay…then you risk not being considered for a job that really pays.
But ultimately…it’s down to you to create your own job anyway…
Today is Mark’s birthday, he turned 52. He shares his birthday with his Uncle Peter who turns 70, a cause for much family celebration.
Peter has been retired for 5 years. He was a partner in an accountancy firm and is enjoying a relaxing retirement thanks to a generous pension – splitting his time between his London mews home and his beachfront villa in the Algarve. As a baby boomer he has benefitted from unprecedented property price inflation, and also from the fact that his children all went to university before tuition fees became payable. He was able to downsize his property a few years ago and give his two children a very handsome deposit for their first homes. He has little time for computers, having been lucky enough to have had someone to ‘do all that computer stuff’ for him when his accountancy practice felt the need to fully embrace technology.
Mark is also a baby boomer and also an accountant. He has worked for different companies, but has been restructured out of his last two roles. After each redundancy he’s had periods of unemployment followed by day rate contracts. His ‘pension pot’ is shrinking and this, along with the need to keep his skills up to date and worries about financing his children’s university education, help to keep him awake most nights. He happens to be pretty good with computers, something that helps keep him employable.
Mark’s wife Jane is luckier. She is a year younger than him so is a Generation X type. Not for her the riches of the baby boomers, but being born into the digital revolution age means she has a greater understanding of digital concepts. She was allegedly part of the ‘me generation’ of the 80s (although she was already in her 20s), something she shares with her 34 year old niece, Joanna. Although 17 years apart, their adolescent years clearly shared similar ‘slacker’ style influences. However without Mark’s computer skills she wouldn’t have any idea how to pay a bill or send an e-mail.
Their 14 year old son Paul is in Year 9 and has just had a ‘business’ day at school. A number of large organisations sent their graduate recruiters in to educate the boys and girls in employability. He was intrigued by the one of the presentations from a woman who said she was 31 but then also said ‘I can help you, after all I’m a Gen Y’er just like you so I know what it’s like’. He thought it was particularly funny when she said that Facebook wouldn’t be allowed in the workplace because it was just for silly pictures of babies, weddings, parties and pets, when all Paul’s classmates use it to keep in touch with each other, to find out what has been missed at school and to help each other out with homework and research.
Paul found it even funnier when he heard that the lady had spoken very differently to Year 8 (his sister Lucy’s year) by telling them that their lifelong use of digital communication, social networking and mobile sets them apart. When Lucy got home she teased Paul about how she was a digital native and he was just part of the ‘boomerang generation’. She found it odd because without Paul she wouldn’t have the first idea how to use her iPhone or iPad nor how to download or connect…
Barely an hour goes by without a link appearing in my Twitter timeline to an article that goes something like ‘6 things you need to do if you want to hire Gen Y’ or ’10 reasons Gen Y don’t want to work for you’ or a personal real favourite ‘Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25’.
Of course it’s largely tosh. To draw uniformity of influences for people born in a 17 year timespan and then turn that in to some kind of HR or workplace wisdom is foolish. But people do it. People seem to make some kind of living out of packaging it up as consultancy.
The demographists, pollsters, and social and cultural historians know differently of course. They like to draw conclusions from the social, economic, cultural and parental influences that someone is exposed to in adolescence, particularly between 13 and 18, and I can understand this. Experiences within this 5 year age span tend to shape expectations, values, ambitions and aspirations that we carry forward in to adult life. My sons are bound to be different to mine, as will be those between someone who grew up in the 80s and the 90s.
They have different generational classifications in recognition of the fact that influences change every few years – for example Generation Jones are the ones who grew up in the 70s…though I still think Generation Bowie is better They are currently the key demographic targeted by pollsters and marketers.
One of the best research presentations I’ve seen on this came from Decode. They didn’t see age as the signifier of attitudes but life stages. Within the ‘traditional’ Gen Y age demographic they found a variety of attitudes dictated by life stage.
Taking work/life balance as an example (something that older generations think is of great importance to Gen Y) they found that it was a number one priority for students just entering the workplace. For the young independents it was of very low priority, whilst for young families its importance had increased, but not to the level of students. All of these attitudes from a sample group in the age range 21-29.
As Pew Research Center recently concluded
“Generational analysis has a long and distinguished place in social science, and we cast our lot with those scholars who believe it is not only possible, but often highly illuminating, to search for the unique and distinctive characteristics of any given age group of Americans.
But we also know this is not an exact science. We are mindful that there are as many differences in attitudes, values, behaviours and lifestyles within a generation as there are between generations.”
Just ask Peter, Mark, Jane, Joanna, Paul and Lucy…
I love the play and movie Amadeus. The portrayal of both the vulnerability yet precociousness of genius has always intrigued me, and also how it impacts on those less gifted but still creative.
My favourite scene is the one above. Everyone’s viewpoint is played out on a daily basis in our lives.
- Who is His Excellency to question the creative process? The end product is exactly what the creator wants it to be, exactly what he hears in his head. The audience will have to accept it.
- Why doesn’t Mozart accept constructive criticism? After all, without the receptive ‘ordinary ear’ of the audience his music will never gain its true reach.
- The chance for mediocrity to triumph is to show those who are more gifted and creative to be somehow elitist and out of touch with the audience.
What about if Mozart was a content marketer and not a composer??!!
On Tuesday morning I will be taking my place on a keynote panel at Social Media World Forum to discuss Social Content Strategies. I’ll be leaving the cottage industry of recruitment and HR to debate with the great and good from Google, BskyB, Adobe, New Look and Brandwatch and we’ll be talking, amongst other things, about:
- Why is content becoming king in social? Why should brands become content creators?
- How good content strategies can re-humanise brands and develop emotional connections between content and the customer
I’ll be thinking about Mozart as I prepare…there are only so many pieces of content the human brain can assimilate in a day.
What do you think?