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Tag: Organisational change

Understanding Gen Y Part 2: why employers need to learn to love them

Businesses globally are unprepared to face the challenges of the changing business environment, as they struggle to manage the demands of Millennial (also known as Gen Y) employees and adapt to disruptions in labour markets.

This was the finding from a Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey released earlier in 2014.

Gen Y are frequently made out to be lazy and entitled.   An article from the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, a few months ago, “What your boss really wants to say to you”, included a quote from one employer that typifies the sentiments shared by many, ““The younger generation seem to want the boss’s job and pay but they don’t want to work for it,”

The attitude that Gen Y are people whose ‘demands’ should be ‘managed’ seems to be contributing to the lack of preparation for changing business environments rather than being part of it.  Given the things business should be focusing on, it seems remarkable that incessant Gen Y bashing continues.

The things that Gen Y are accused of are not new; workplaces have always had to deal with these issues.  There have always been those who thought there was a fast ride to the top.  Nepotism, cronyism and old boys networks provide many with their sense of entitlement.  Everyone knows that the phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ refers to advantages paid for reasons that are not ability and hard work.

Anyone who has spent any time in employment, particularly the corporate environment can pinpoint lazy pretenders who have mastered the art of slipping away when anything becomes too demanding.  They will be able to recall long-winded and tedious discussions about nothing more than golfing handicaps or who else has noticed the great legs on the new girl in marketing.  Those take credit for someone else’s work are no more or less lazy or entitled than the expectations the Gen Y are accused of having.

Of course Gen Y as a group are different to previous generations.  They have been brought up differently – every parent has their list of things their parents did that they would never do to their children.  Gen Y grew up in a world of technology, terrorism, 24-7 news; their grandparents aspired to the quarter acre block, their parents committed to lifetime mortgages, today both are out of reach for many.  Why would we expect they should join the workforce with the same understanding as previous generations?

The key to businesses being prepared for the challenges of the changing business environment is not in meeting the demands of Gen Y; it is in using Gen Y’s perspective of the world to fast track their capabilities for the business environment as it changes.

For instance, ‘work’ for older generations is likely to incorporate notions of service and subordination (to the company), hierarchy and divisions, succession and approval (reward and recognition).  ‘Work’ for Gen Y tends to include an expectation that they are part of a team that is there to contribute to the organisation’s objectives – which the older generation usually assumes is the role of the CEO.

For Gen Y, social currency is what matters.  This includes a team environment that collaborates, discusses and works together to solve problems.  Rather than viewing their supervisors as people moving towards the management ‘them’, Gen Y see their role is to support their supervisors – as long as they have built a good relationship with them. Social currency means being able to engage with the organisation’s story.  This is very clearly seen in Gen Y’s attitude to brands.  They are at the same time cynical about marketing but highly engaged with a brand’s values whose stories they relate to.

There are two examples to illustrate this.  Jeans brand, Levi’s, international ‘Make Our Mark’ campaign calls out to the artist inside us.  The company used #MakeOurMark and other hashtags to invite the public to contribute their artistic expressions to a living online ‘wall’.

McDonald’s, on the other hand, tried to hijack people’s values to promote their brand through a Twitter campaign #McDStories.  The aim was for the hashtag to inspire heart-warming stories about Happy Meals.  The campaign succeeded in engagement with horror stories about the company immediately filling the twitterverse.  Although the campaign was pulled within two hours, the momentum – and terrible stories – carried on for weeks.

So organisations should not see Gen Y as a problem to be solved, rather by understanding Gen Y’s perspective they may be helping their organisations to evolve in line with the changing needs of the business.  It does not mean Gen Y have all the answers.  Keeping in mind that the jobs young people used to fill while they were at school are not as available – because of automation, and often because their parents are still holding them – their first ‘real’ job is also often their first job.

The most common, and easily fixed, mistake employers make is sitting all employees down in an induction program that was written following a format as old as the company itself.  It would be sensible to develop an induction program for those – like Gen Y – that have little or no recent work experience and deliver it in a format – such as a podcast – that reflects how they are used to consuming information.

Gen Y have now been in the workforce for a decade or more.  It is time for us to get over the stereotyping and do what we should be doing: making sure the workplace is keeping up with change.

Four ways to get the best from Gen Y

  1. Develop an organisation where context is clearly defined.  Gen Y do not care about skills they way you do – they have all used Youtube to learn a skill.  They care less about your knowledge – information has always been at their fingertips.  Also they have grown up in a world knowledge and skills can be outdated in fewer years than it takes to complete a degree.  If recognition and authority is based on skills and knowledge alone in your organisation, they will expect to move quickly.Gen Y do care about wisdom and experience.  They want to be guided through real life.  Show them how skills and knowledge work in context so they learn it is not what you know or what you can do, it is how you use what you know or what you can do.
  2. It’s all about values.  Gen Y use the word ‘values’ in the same way we used the word ‘career’.  It drives their decisions about where they work, what they do, what they aim for, and what they are prepared to do to get there.  It is the importance of values to Gen Y that they will prefer lifestyle and flexibility over money and promotion, and choose an employer for what it cares about over the job it offers.  They work on the basic assumption that things can be fixed with enough people who care coming together to make it happen.
  3. Replace formal goal-setting with regular coaching.  You will get better performance from Gen Y by supporting them in the here and now.  Think about gamification which rewards incremental gain not goal achievement.  The thing that makes Gen Y easy to manage is they are practically hard-wired for change and continuous learning (such as the way they barely seem to notice when functionality changes on their iPhones while we complain with every upgrade).
  4. Gen Y are not impatient and insensitive so much as they are often poor at soft skills such as prioritising, managing relationships, workplace etiquette, teamwork, planning and managing distractions.  These are all trainable skills that somehow, in the way they are being schooled, they are underdeveloped.  They have a great capacity for feedback and work better with regular input and the opportunity to reflect on their achievements and improvements.

So with Gen Y in the workplace in increasing numbers and starting to reach management levels, looking down our noses at all their shortcomings is a cop out.  We have done a great job with them as parents, now our role is to coach them in their development at work.

Remember when we began our careers, as a whole we were more qualified than the generation before us.  They called us upstarts who needed to experience ‘real life’ before we earned the right to contribute.

It was true then as it is now that organisations will benefit from investing time in early career development as well as changing practices to encourage greater input.

#encompassproject – when good ideas become reality

Last Thursday it was my privilege and pleasure to be invited to Encompass Community Services by CEO, Elaine Robb, to attend the launch of the Encompass Revolution.  Staff gathered to hear Elaine, and Board Chairperson, Dr Alyson Miller, explain the purpose of the ‘revolution’ and to watch the launch of Encompass TV.

Elaine gave an impassioned speech on the remarkable work that the team of loyal and committed Encompass staff performed every day and the difference this made to the lives of many.  BUT, Elaine continued, there was more work to do.  Times change and new challenges continue to arise, prompting the need to ensure Encompass was always adapting.  Elaine told her team that the Encompass Revolution would be many things, including new ideas, better systems and more services, however it would not be reducing staff or removing positions.  The team at Encompass, she concluded, was the ”best staff in the world” and the Encompass Revolution was about removing barriers that prevent them from doing more for disability services, not-for-profit organisations, Geelong and wider community.

Alyson spoke simply of the opportunities ahead for Encompass to pursue greater things using a community of the motivated, talented and skilled people who were sitting in the room.

Encompass TV launch

Encompass CEO, Elaine Robb, addresses her team

The inaugural episode of Encompass TV was launched to the delight of the team.  Its producer (and for now director, program manager, sound and camera person and editor), Fritzie, managed to capture the spirit of Encompass and some stellar grabs of team members and clients.

Elaine generously allowed me to speak to the team to explain the background the #encompassproject and the work I had done with the organisation over the years.  One thing that Encompass and Elaine has achieved that many organisations never do: every person in the room knew word-for-word the Encompass Vision and knew exactly what it meant to them and their work.

Organisations regularly implement programs, policies or procedures to increase employee participation.  There is always a new trend; twenty years ago it was flexitime.  Ten years later we had employer of choice with massages and birthday days off all the rage.  Casual Fridays is still considered a ‘bonus’ in some workplaces.  The success of initiatives that interfere with positions and status, particularly for full time workers, are typically the least successful.  The ability to work outside what is still for many organisations the ‘backbone structure’ of rigidly managed full time work often ends up little more than good intentions; they like the idea but not the changes needed to allow them to happen.  As one industrial relations lawyer once wryly remarked to me, “Employers are happy to offer many flexible initiatives, but they’re always surprised, sometimes resentful, when anyone tries to use them.”

In this, the 21st century, employers need to understand their workers differently.  The platitudes of being the “most valuable asset” will no longer wash.  Perhaps once when people were human-powered production – basically the parts of production that could not be performed with a combination of electricity, mechanical parts and computers – there could be some argument that the employer owned (an asset being a resource that an entity owns or controls) the labour which is how a person came to be a legal entity’s ‘asset’.  In the knowledge economy, the workers own the assets – their knowledge.  The organisation leases this knowledge.  In place of rigid positions and inflexible rosters the organisation creates a positive workplace culture to promote innovation, considered risk-taking, and the ability of staff to continuously self-evaluate and self-moderate.  The organisation ‘partners’ with the knowledge asset owners to maximise the value of intellectual and social capital, resulting in on-going opportunities for both.

It’s a paradigm shift that few understand, for a large part because it has only had a few years to develop, against the 150 or so years of the industrial economy.  The companies using what software company Atlassian calls ‘Ship It Days’ (giving time to employees to work on any project of their choosing for a set amount of time) have been the progressive ones.  Encompass, to its enormous credit, took a giant leap last Thursday, making a commitment to its staff to become a partner to the vast untapped resources of its employees for the good of its community.

#encompassproject – making change happen

Working hard at Encompass

Working hard at Encompass

All organisations, no matter how big, how profitable, how long established, how so motivated or how managed, have one thing in common: the desire for change.

Organisational change is defined as the changes an organisation makes to its working methods or aims in order to deal with new situations.  Under this definition even an organisation that wishes to maintain status quo must engage in change as the environments in which it operates constantly evolve.  This underpins the need for organisations to have access to more expertise that their boards, C-level executives, internal and external consultants and professional advisors provide.  The increasing pace and complexity of change in today’s world means that these advisors are more critical to the organisation than ever.  (The business coaching industry has been estimated to be the fastest growing industry globally behind IT.)  It would not be too hard to make the case that if it were not for the organisation’s obligation to manage change, few of its directors, executives and advisors would have much of a role to play at all.

With the pressures on organisations to perform and the need to continuously evolve, best practice is no longer enough.  Its basis is learning from past practice.  As global consulting firm BCG senior partner and managing director, Roselinde Torres, says in her 2013 TED Talk, “Great leaders are not head-down. They see around corners, shaping their future, not just reacting to it.”

Most organisations under-estimate the amount of change they need to be actively managing.  In our experience most leaders over-estimate their commitment to change and over-estimate their ability to lead change.  It is not unheard of for us to leave a consultation with the meeting effectively summed up as, “Help us improve but we don’t want to do anything differently.”  With all due respect to trainers and human resources specialists, a vast amount of training takes place so that organisations can shift the burden of change down to line staff.

Getting people in organisations to change has been the focus of intense examination and analysis for decades, but it usually boils down to the role of leaders in overcoming peoples’ fear of change.  Some of this fear comes from the unknown, such as What will happen to my job, if x takes place?”  Or, “I’ve spent so much time building this system/team/practice, I must protect my contribution.”  Some comes from an anticipated loss, “I am good at doing y so if I stop doing it, I will lose respect/credibility/status.”  Some of the fear is reinforced by the relationships we have formed – we seek shelter in the groups where we feel understood.

Encompass Community Services has set itself a mammoth goal: to transform itself from a mechanistic organisation to a community-centric one.  This is what the #encompassproject is about.  Such an all-encompassing task is overwhelming.  Where do you start?  How do you coordinate the moves that need to be made across the organisation?


Our approach to change is based on three simple principles.

  1. Focus.  Change without a single, clear and emphatic agenda becomes quickly disjointed.  Human nature is such that people need reasons.  When these are not clear one of two things will happen: 1) they work the change into existing practice; or 2) they create their own explanation.  These imputed explanations may not always be flattering, but worse they can take hold and form a negative sub-culture.
  2. Move fast. Organisations tend to drag their feet with change.  It gives them the illusion of control.  In reality it either creates the gaps where resistance can take hold, or people lose the sense of importance of the change.  Putting a timeline on change forces you to make a choice about where you will start and to do something.  It also allows failure – if it happens – to happen quickly and before people feel committed to sticking to something because of the time and effort invested, even if it is not working.
  3. Over-communicate.  In studies where managers are asked how well they believe they communicate, inevitably when compared to their employees’ responses, they do not do as well as they think they do.  The only way to fix this is to over-communicate.  Introducing Encompass TV (more in next week’s blog).

While change is all about creating a desired future, many organisations use it to try to repair an imperfect past.  The only thing we can change is the here and now.  The changes at Encompass will begin with the here and now of the organisation structure.  The structure is most visibly recognised by the titles that label the positions its employees hold.  Our first task is to ensure the positions that give employees their status and recognition in the organisation do not become the walls that limit their potential.

It is my privilege to help Encompass through this forthcoming change program.  Please share your suggestions and questions about the project ahead in the comments section.

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