Managing the Next-Generation Workforce

 -  2/4/08

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The challenge of managing the next-generation workforce should be considered from two perspectives. Beyond evaluating how the incoming workforce will respond to the culture and offerings of the company, it is also critical to delve into the rationale for the company’s current programs and policies. Developing an effective approach to managing the next generation requires a close look at the assumptions on which current management practices are based. Many companies will realize some of their practices have been perpetuated because of cultural momentum or habit and are inconsistent with current and future objectives. Consequently, the major systems that govern human behavior require review.

These systems include:

  • Recruiting: Attracting and sourcing of candidates.
  • Performance management: Goal setting, performance assessment, feedback and ratings, and succession management.
  • Compensation and benefits: Direct pay, equity, promotional opportunities and recognition, health, dental and vision coverage, wellness programs, life and disability coverage, long-term care and child care programs and opt-in plans, such as tuition reimbursement and employee discounts.

For each system, consider what behavior the current practice is intended to drive and if that behavior is consistent with the current goals and strategy. For instance, if the recruiting practice is based on the assumption that all hires will be geographically mobile, is this the reality? Will it be the reality in the future? Is the assumption behind the performance management system that individual stars matter more than collaboration, or that specialization is more valuable than breadth? Does the core assumption drive an outcome that is desirable today and in the future?

Compensation and benefits will require a detailed review, including feedback from current employees and recruiters, to assess the attractiveness of your offerings. Is compensation based more on group or individual results or seniority? Are programs motivating the results needed for the business to thrive, or creating barriers? Will the next generation be motivated by the current programs? For example, a very competitive pension program may be effective in an environment where long-term careers are desired and likely. If this is no longer true, emphasis on the pension plan may detract from other offerings or even hinder appropriate succession of executive roles. Long-term care and child care were not historically important in a workforce that lacked financial responsibility for their parents and had child care delivered by relatives. That is not the reality today.

Development and learning opportunities may have been used to prepare for movement into management or to increase the depth of expertise in a core discipline. Does your organization have enough upward movement to justify making this a high return investment? Are core disciplines still critical to the business, or is the situation changing with new technology or outsourcing?

Once you have examined the assumptions behind the programs, consider the characteristics of the next generation in greater depth. The next generation has an extremely low boredom threshold. Multitasking is a symptom of the short attention span typical among incoming talent. Organizations will need to offer a wide variety of challenges early in career. Promoting the humanitarian values and philanthropic endeavors of the organization will help to attract and retain talent. Recognition, which can be shared with family, has more retention value than mere money, although money serves to quantify the value of their accomplishments.

Consider that this next generation uses data from the Internet to calibrate the fairness of their “deal” versus competition. Most sources provide very bad data. We will need to provide competitive data more openly, or the reality will be whatever the bad data says it is. Keep in mind that as parents, we encouraged this openness and explained everything in whatever detail the next generation requested.

The differences in the next generation are not insurmountable, and they offer significant benefits. A workforce that loves change, embraces new technologies and lacks the guile to participate in corporate politics has the potential to improve corporate life.