What Is Your Organization’s Signature?

Multigenerational Leadership in the Workforce

August 22, 2017

“Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.” – Dale Carnegie

“It is no use to wait for your ship to come in unless you have sent one out.” – Belgian proverb

“One with conviction will overwhelm a hundred who have only opinions.” – Winston Churchill

“Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products.  It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.” – Jim Collins

“People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses…and sometime they quit, though haven’t left.” – authorship unknown

When serving as President of the National Human Resources Association, I had the privilege of participating in numerous workshops, seminars, webinars, and summits on the challenges of managing and leading a multigenerational workforce. More often than not, despite the good intentions of the presenter, participants left each program sweating, confused, frustrated, and with more questions than solutions.

Based upon our customers and partners from more than 90 countries and all industries, the number of generations in our workforce are now often described as Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, X & Y, Millennials and, now, the ones joining the workforce are the Media Generation. Each generation has very distinct characteristics, motivators, needs, and talents. The Media Generation are the youngest and have never, ever operated without a device in their hand. They even wonder why Millennials are so slow to respond to their texts.

Case in Point

Last summer, I was working with a longstanding aerospace company’s Board of Directors comprised of highly paid Traditionalists, each on the board no less than 20 years. None of these big buck, old-timer board members could cite the vision, mission, and values of the organization. Not one. No clue. Yet while they all happily cashed their BOD checks, the company was bleeding. They did not know if they were on foot or horseback, as the saying goes.

I thought I’d do a little digging on their culture, management, and, leadership by researching their Board Minutes. Management complained about the new hires’ lack of motivation, sense of entitlement, poor work ethic, easy distraction with technology, and instant gratification. They seemed to be taking a lot of heat from those older. Sound familiar? Guess the date of the Board minutes. Wait for it…1975!!!

Same complaints, different actors. Different point in history. Management complained about the exact same things then as they do now. All relative, and certainly nothing new. Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself. It sure does rhyme.”

A New Perspective

One conference changed my whole approach and perspective. Major shift. Our facilitator posed a question to the entire conference audience: “Who has heard of the Top 50 Best Places to Work Award?” We all raised our hands. There were 300-plus thought leaders in the room, from a comprehensive range of companies.

Then we were asked, “How many would like to work at an organization where the first 90 days of probation are intense, in-your-face, high-pressure, screw up and you are DONE! FIRED!?” One third of the audience grimaced. One third shrugged and gestured – whatever. One third smiled big and nodded, and said, “Yeah! Baby!” Pretty compelling and attention getting.

The facilitator then asked, “How about 90 days of probation in a completely cross-functional, mentor-strong, nurturing setting…and when you are hired—because we will hire you—we’ll make sure you do not stumble. You will have a mentor right by your side, every step of the way.” One third, one third, one third…same reactions from the audience, yet they all shifted equally.

[To read more of Brian Barry’s thought leadership click here]

The facilitator then asked, “How about a company where whether you are hired or not is a decision made not by management but by the choice and decision of the team? All reactions switched, evenly, again, in thirds.

Then images appeared of companies that were voted Top 50 Places to Work in each of the above distinct descriptions. Most noteworthy, each company had a balanced representation of all five of the Generations. All five. Each had a balanced representation of gender, culture, and diversity.

Each had a attrition rate of less than 5%. Recruiting was referral-based in each; little to no spending on recruiting was necessary. Qualified candidates clamored to join each company.

The point was well received. Each of these companies in the Top 50 Best Places to Work had a very clear signature as to how they operated. Complete clarity and alignment with their vision, mission, and values. No miscommunication as to how they operate, and certainly no “bait & switch” or “honeymoon is over.”

You want an intense environment with extremely high pressure for results? Come join us at Company 1. Don’t have the stomach, apply elsewhere. Want a nurturing culture? They are out there. Team player? Find a team culture company.

No confusion. No waffling. Clearly communicated and in alignment with a signature, with their very clear vision, mission, and values.

A Signature Culture

There is a Chinese proverb that “A fish leads, and a fish dies, by the head.” A signature culture must come from the very top executive and be credibly demonstrated throughout the company. Otherwise, it is window dressing with zero credibility. Those companies in the Top 50 rule in, and rule out, talent. Upstream. No surprises. No confusion.

Imagine. Candidates of every age have something to contribute. Every age. Every skill level.

Based upon thirty-plus years of feedback, one of the best questions a candidate can ask in an interview is one that quickly rules in and rules out whether or not an organization has a clear and demonstrated signature culture.

[For more on Dale Carnegie’s approach to Management Consulting click here]

It goes like this: The candidate asks the hiring manager, “It’s a year from now, and you’ve hired me. We are at the Annual Awards function. The entire company is in attendance, and you are about to award me the New Hire of the Year Award. What did I, the new hire, do to earn this?”

If the hiring manager stumbles and/or cites the black-and-white job description, which is typically cut and pasted…that tells the candidate a lot about the manager, and a lot about the organization. That is what is called a “Jail Term Job.” The candidate should back out now. If the hiring manager clearly describes the role, operating successfully and strategically a year out, with confidence…now we are in business!

Candidates, be prepared! The hiring manager may ask you the very same question.

Have a signature. Better hires, less missteps, better productivity, competitive edge, and increased profits. What is your organization’s signature?

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