There is no doubt that we are facing challenging times. Within many workplaces we are losing experienced workers as they are either retrenched or retire, replacing them, if at all, with the sea of less experienced Generation Y. This is part of a structural realignment that has been underway now for some years, with many Western countries facing the situation where population is both shrinking and aging:
Think of 20-somethings as a single work force, the best educated there is. In Japan, that work force will shrink by one-fifth in the next decade — a considerable loss of knowledge and skills. At the other end of the age spectrum, state pensions systems face difficulties now, when there are four people of working age to each retired person. By 2030, Japan and Italy will have only two per retiree; by 2050, the ratio will be three to two.
But as I have suggested previously, leaders need to work now to prepare their businesses for a different kind of future. We need to re-think the way that we manage the business of doing business – for economic crisis or not, the landscape in which many of us work will never be the same again. This means that, as leaders, we must now begin the hard work of orienting our organizations, our processes and our business cultures toward a new way of working that is more resilient and flexible – and one that builds learning into the very DNA of our operations. For while the “war for talent” goes through a recession-driven hiatus, this is not a permanent cease-fire. As the leading management author, Gary Hamel suggests:
Sure, it’s a buyer’s market for talent right now, but that won’t always be the case—and in the future, any company that lacks a vital core of Gen F [Facebook] employees will soon find itself stuck in the mud.
Hamel goes on to outline 12 characteristics of online life that will impact our management practices in the years ahead:
- All ideas compete on an equal footing
- Contribution counts for more than credentials
- Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed
- Leaders serve rather than preside
- Tasks are chosen, not assigned
- Groups are self-defining and organizing
- Resources get attracted, not allocated
- Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it
- Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed
- Users can veto most policy decisions
- Intrinsic rewards matter most
- Hackers are heroes
Now, I could easily write on each of these points, but I would like to concentrate on the last point – hackers are heroes. Having worked in IT companies for many years, I have had the benefit of seeing the power, innovation and energy that can come from genius programmers who push the limits of the work that they do. They truly provide the breakthroughs that we crave. But often this innovation comes at a cost – for while “hackers” make life uncomfortable for the organizations, they are celebrated in online communities. This can lead to a mis-match between the type of employee that we “want” and the type of employee that we “need”.
I have a feeling that, in the future, we will need to find a more cohesive way of bringing these “mavericks” into the fold of corporate life. And the thing is, we can’t wait for Gen Y to force this transition upon us – we should be actively preparing the ground work now. Our future prosperity and success may well depend upon it.
Nina Nets It Out: With so much change underway, you could be forgiven for wanting to “take cover”. However, now is the perfect time to begin the transformations that will pave your way for future success. Begin rethinking the way that your company works with the younger generation of workers. They are, after all, the future leaders of your business.