Being a 20th Century Organization in the 21st Century -- You Lose!! During a recent client meeting, a young person who was new to the company said to the senior leadership team about their Inclusion efforts, “I’m surprised you haven’t done this work already.” Though some may have seen this comment as a career-limiting move, I found the candidness a gift to that leadership team to enable them to hear the collective voice of the younger generation’s expectations as they enter the workforce.
Young people don’t want to be the pioneers of organizational culture change as their parents and predecessors were. They expect that much of the work on Diversity and Inclusion has been done, and if it hasn’t been, they are disappointed and willing to express their opinions with either their voices or their feet. Young people are expecting organizations to welcome them and their ideas but many young people are finding themselves disappointed on arrival. Organizations have a serious challenge if they want the next generation(s) to join them. They can either recognize the urgent need to change and make the changes necessary to attract and retain the top talent of the future generations and survive and maybe thrive in the 21st century or they will struggle to compete because they are living in the 21st century with 20th century structures, processes and ways of operating which will result in either unattractive organizations to the top talent of the next generation or a place where that talent is boxed in and it can not bring its gifts. It really is that clear cut.
The Millennials entering the workplace are ready to contribute. They want to concentrate 100 percent of their efforts on the job they were hired to do, to learn and grown and not be cast in the role of a pioneer or change agent for Diversity and Inclusion, or needing to champion the transition of an organization from an old 20 century culture of hierarchy to a new culture of shared leadership and collaborative work approaches.
Some organizations with whom we consult are working hard to create organizational cultures that address the expectations of young people by identifying and eliminating the physical and cultural divides that separate people, removing internal silos and identifying leadership qualities in people at all levels. Despite the reality that many of today's young people will not stay with an organization for 10 years, or even 5 years, leaders and co-team members must work closely with them to maximize their engagement and contributions while they are there. This mindset oftentimes causes friction with veteran team members who are accustomed to longevity being the primary factor for advancement. In order to close the generation gaps, organizations need to develop a more inclusive mindset—one in which everyone’s voice is heard and valued, where a new team member can speak frankly with others no matter what their rank or tenure.
The world of work is changing rapidly and the big question facing organizations is can they change fast enough. The norm used to be that by age 35 a person would have had 3 to 5 positions within the same organization, now the norm is that those 3 to 5 positions will probably be at several different organizations as people move seeking opportunities to contribute and maximize their learning. Some organizations may not yet be ready for a workforce that is as demanding of the organization as the organization is of them. Some may not be ready to invest in individuals who may not be there for the long haul. But one thing is clear – by not investing in younger people, and enabling them to contribute now the chance of them remaining is very small, especially the top talent. This is the new world of work, the 21st century world of work – and those organizations that learn to adapt will have the talent they need to compete and thrive in this century.