First of all, I’d like to say that I don’t like the generational labeling that goes on. Maybe because I am part of the lost generation – somewhere between Boomers and Generation X and I don’t really fit into either. We were the last generation to go to university for purely altruistic reasons – to learn for learning’s sake – and then had to face recessions and layoffs when we entered the workforce in the eighties, often ill-equipped with generic Arts & Science degrees. Maybe that has taught me to navigate around this labeling, and like Madonna re-invent myself periodically.
Though I must concede there is some logic in trying to fit people into demographic pigeon holes that are described by their shared experiences, and try to then predict trends in behaviour and tendencies. This is a part of Persona profiling. After all we are the product of our experiences, and it takes a great deal of self-awareness to transcend the influences of our environments.
So… disclaimer aside, I had an interesting discussion in a group of peers recently, when we were posed with the question as to where do you see organizational management going.
My peer in the discussion said that since “Millennials”, the generation that has been coddled by their “Boomer” parents, are so much in need of real direction, he thought there would be a return to a more autocratic structured organization. That this generation needs a stronger structure to perform and produce. I understand this negative comment about “Millennials”. I’ve heard horror stories about the mothers of 20 somethings actually angrily calling up HR departments to demand an explanation as to why their child didn’t get a certain position. No parent should be that involved in an adult child’s career! Detach now!
I disagreed. I said I thought the opposite would happen.
I thought that the autocratic style was a hangover from business management philosophies that grew out of a time when the pool of managers consisted of World War II vets – former Generals and NCOs. We now have a full workforce that has not experienced mandatory conscription, with its men having to spend time in the military service. At lease this is true of Canada. So this type of military “chain of command” thinking is becoming a thing of the past.
I see trends of the reverse happening. A need for managers to learn influencing skills, rather than delegation by giving orders. Companies and industries focusing on the needs for community and ecosystems rather than partisan politicking. The breaking down of organizational silos – which are actually like little platoons within companies. Customer focused “service first” companies. I see more women in leadership roles. But I’m a dreamer. I fit in this type of organization better. And with having held leadership roles in matrix organizations, I’ve had to learn the soft leadership skills you need to thrive in them.
So, keeping to the discussion of generational thinking, what do I see in the current and upcoming generations that will drive this new collaborative working environment?
Macleans published an article the week of July 15th titled Get Ready for Generation Z, where they describe the current 4-18 year olds as smart, tech native, ambitious, independent and entrepreneurial. I also saw Dr. Karyn Gordon talking about this article on City’s Breakfast Television. She was so enthusiastic about this group of kids coming of age, it was infectious. She said part of the reason they are like this is because they were raised by Generation X, while Millennials have been raised by Boomers. She said they did have to learn to improve their in-person communications, having spent so much time focused on communicating with devices. They will be soon entering the workforce and will definitely make a strong impact.
So what do I foresee? As Boomers retire we will have a workforce of Millennials, bookended between Generation X and Z. The ambitious talented Generation Zs will advance up the management chain faster than Millennials, because the Generation X senior management will appreciate their skills. Or they will open their own entrepreneurial companies and hire Millennium subordinates. Regardless, Generation Z will put themselves in a position to have a stronger impact on the organizational makeup of our companies. Millennials will just have to change; or go on caring more about life experiences more than their career advancement.
Maybe what we will really see is a hybrid of everything, and a real uniqueness from organization to organization. This polarized talking about organizations was great for a roundtable discussion. But what I think will really happen when we move away from less structured organizational styles is that this will breed new ways of thinking and interacting in the workplace. Companies will evolve a style and leadership that focuses on performance and satisfaction for all its constituents – management, employees and customers alike. It will be as unique as their constituents are.