Future of Work : As Generation Y Moves In, Leadership Must Evolve

Albert A. Vicere is executive education professor of strategic leadership at Penn State's Smeal College of Business, and president of Vicere Associates, Inc., a leadership consulting firm with clients around the globe. He is one of the country's top leadership coaches, and is the author/editor of several books including Leadership By Design, The Many Facets of Leadership and more than 80 articles on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

View his website by visiting www.vicere.com or e-mail him on a.vicere@vicere.com

The search is on for new talent as organizations are both preparing for an onslaught of baby boomer retirements and positioning themselves for a future characterized by changing markets and evolving business models.

Employers are expected to increase hiring of college grads by 13.1 percent compared to last year, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The organization reports starting salaries are rising. College campus recruitment is up and companies finally are bringing on new blood to help build leadership bench strength for the future.

But what about hiring new college recruits ? We all know the slacker theory. The one that says young people today want cushy lifestyles, high salaries and don’t want to work hard.

Get over it.

Young people today can and do work very hard. It’s just that it’s more on their own terms. They want great jobs in great companies. They want jobs where they can make an impact, where their skills and knowledge will be put to the test in organizations that are driven by leading-edge thinking.

When they find such an employer, they’ll give you their all-in their own way. But keep in mind, talent recruitment is a sellers market and organizations must aggressively pursue the prize. That means that companies better understand what drives next generation workers.

Those entering the workforce from college today are knowledge workers-they have well-developed knowledge and skill sets that their bosses often lack. Knowledge workers want to be challenged not just by their work, but also by the opportunity to continually learn new skills. They want feedback and lots of it. They want leaders who teach them, work with them, and help them to grow.

What else ? They want access to the latest thinking and the latest tools that will enable them to put that thinking to the test. They want to be assigned to visible projects where they can demonstrate their mettle. And above all, they want to feel they are part of an organization that respects them for the new knowledge and ideas that they bring to the business.

These desires seem simple enough, yet, in many ways, they fly in the face of traditional views of career development in organizations. In the old economy model, people put in their time, paid their dues, kept their eye on the ball, and gradually advanced until they finally achieved their day in the sun. That pattern no longer holds.

Challenging assignments, effective leadership, and ample feedback are essential in today’s organization. The annual appraisal, coupled with a pat on the back, is not enough. Skilled knowledge workers want and deserve more input and more honest appraisals of their efforts. And they want it packaged with a good helping of recommendations for improvement/advancement delivered by respected boss/mentors.

What else do they want ? They want to be paid fairly for what they do, and that means that they want a piece of the action. Never doubt that equity in some form has become the currency of the realm in today’s economy. Shareholder value appeals only to shareholders.

So, if a company wishes to deliver on the shareholder value mantra, it better be sure that employees have a vested interest in creating that value. This, too, flies in the face of old economy structures where equity fell into the hands of only the elite few at the top.

Companies that continue to subscribe to that notion will find themselves rapidly moving to the outside ranks of great companies, at least in the minds of young, talented knowledge workers. And those new-economy workers are the lifeblood of a company’s future.

There’s one other thing-these new college recruits also want a life. All work and no play makes us moody, depressed and prone to stress. They saw those maladies in their parents and don’t care to share them. They’ve learned what us Boomers hate to admit-there’s more to life than work.

That doesn’t mean they won’t work hard, achieve and advance. It just means that they’ll do it in their own way, just as we did.

So what’s my prognosis ? For effective leaders creating challenging jobs in great organizations, the sky’s the limit. In today’s new grads, you’ll get new knowledge, high energy, and a desire to be part of a winning team. You just need to harness that potential.

© Copyright Albert Vicere, 2005

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