Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

LeBron James: A Lesson in Gen Y Employee Retention

The assumption that NBA superstar LeBron James would demonstrate blind loyalty to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers should surprise no one – as long as they had been paying attention to the world views of different generations.   

While Baby Boomer and Veteran workers placed a high value on undying loyalty to the organization, Generation Y (born 1980-2000) are looking for opportunity, mobility, and work-life balance. One survey, released in 2004 by Harris Interactive, found that only 47% of those 18 to 34 years old “really care about the fate” of the enterprise for which they work. That compares with 64% of those 55 and older. In other words, younger workers don’t see themselves sticking around in any one place too long. 

Ironically they don’t see themselves as disloyal. Loyalty for Generation Y, sometimes called Millennials, feel loyalty is as much as spiritual thing as it is physical. 

A recent analysis by Princeton economist Henry Farber shows that the percentage of private-sector male workers who’ve been with the same employer for at least 10 years fell from 50% in 1973 to just 35% in 2006, and the proportion of those with 20-year tenures dropped from 35% to 20% over the same period.

The erosion in loyalty is not the fault of Generation Y alone.  Greedy corporations, widespread outsourcing, and wholesale layoffs have soured almost every generation toward blind loyalty to the business enterprise.

In his book, “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace,” Ron Alsop cites a study in which two-thirds of 18- to 28-year-olds said they plan to “surf” from one job to the next. And 44%, he reports, go so far as to say that they’d renege after having accepted a job if a better offer came along.

The over-hyped LeBron James saga is over but how it played out should serve as a wake-up for every executive and business owner.  Throwing buckets of money and lavish benefits may still work when acquiring top talent but it’s no longer enough to retain high-potential and high-performing young workers.

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Random Thoughts on the U.S. Labor Market

Every day I read through dozens of Google Alerts, RSS feeds, emails and newsletters but don’t know what to do with all the information.  So in the first of a series of posts, here are few random, yet sobering, thoughts on the U.S. Labor Market  in 140 characters or less -  Twitter-style.

There is a finite pool of talent worldwide. Support for our technological and physical infrastructure is in short supply.

Technology has increased its pace whereas educational advancement and talent creation have slowed down.

An obsolete 20th century education-to-employment system can no longer cope with the realities of a 21st century global labor market.

40% of workers in the United States and Canada have basic workforce education skill deficiencies.

Only 25% of America’s current eligible workers comfortably meet the new job criteria.

About 95 million adults are reading at or below the 8th grade level of comprehension, disqualifying them for most well-paying jobs.

More than 90 million U.S. workers currently lack the reading, writing and math skills to do their jobs properly.

Compare this to Brazil, where 88% of adults and 97% of youth are literate and 70% of students complete high school.

Although 64% of high schools graduating seniors enter some form of post-secondary education, only 25% graduate with a college degree.

15% of U.S. high schools produce 50% of all the dropouts.

Young people are eager consumers of technology, but not interested in working in technology careers.

Recruiting, retaining and developing skilled people will become so challenging that many businesses will be forced out of existence.

Computers did not cause mass unemployment, but they did create a major upheaval in the nature of work.

75% of U.S. jobs will require both a good liberal-arts-based general education plus post secondary technical training.

The current education-to-employment bureaucracy chokes the innovation and change we need.

Forget Frederick Taylor’s stopwatch management. Start treating people like “brain workers.”

… it seems that the world will end, not with an explosion, but with a slow grinding halt as everything just stops working. A. Brown

We live in a moment in history when change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing. R.D. Laing

Most of these random throughts were highlights from “Winning The Global Talent Showdown“ by Edward Gordon. Ed will be my guest on my radio show, Workforce Trends, on June 16 at 11AM EDT. Tune in!

Based on my random thoughts for this week, I must ask: Are employers underestimating the complexity and pace of change? What do you think?

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The High Price of Laying Off Younger Workers

The Millennial generation is in the midst of experiencing their first recession. This experience has caused them to witness a new side of corporate America…and they don’t like it one bit.  This could spell trouble for corporations down the road. To paraphrase an old English idiom, “hell hath no fury like a generation scorned.”

SBR Consulting, a Charlotte firm specializing in helping companies attract, retain and reward different generations in the workplace, has just published their first of three studies on how the Great Recession is affecting the Millennial generation. The results suggest that due to poor management and poor handling of layoffs, 70% of respondents who were laid off would not go back to work for their company and 55% are either unsure or do not want to work for corporate America again.

It also reveals another significant clash of styles between generations. Veterans, born before 1946, and older Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1954) pledged loyalty to the company in good times and bad. Layoffs were taken in stride because what was good for the company in the short term was good for the employee and community in the long run.

When older generations were laid off or even fired, they did not talk about it at home. They certainly did not broadcast it to the world. The Millennial generation, however, was raised on 24/7 breaking news and instant messaging. They share personal information readily. They are not afraid to talk about being laid off. They are even moral vocal about how their layoff was handled. These conversations and perceptions are then shared with hundreds of friends and thousands of strangers via social media sites like FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

That’s bad news for any business that handled a layoff poorly. Not only is this news spread virally, but now that Google and other search engines are indexing tweets, updates, and blog posts, this bad news creates a permanent digital imprint for anyone to see. A battered reputation poses a significant risk for any business that handled it badly.

The study found that early warnings of layoffs and respect throughout the process meant a great deal for Millennials that were subsequently laid off from their jobs. “It’s not personal, it’s business” does not work for this generation. They take layoffs personally.

Only 34% felt the company cared about them during the layoff process and left with a positive perception of the company. Compare that to the 64% who received no warning of a looming layoff. Only 12% of this group felt the company cared about them during the layoff process and left with a positive perception of the company.

Also posted on my blog Workforce Trends at Bizmore.com

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It’s Time to Worry About Gen Y Joblessness

While the Great Recession appears to be over, a return to normalcy seems far off. At least that’s according to a recent article published in The Atlantic.

If you can believe what you read, “there are good reasons to believe that by 2011, 2012, even 2014 unemployment will have declined only a little” off the near 10%. The effect will be an “era of high joblessness [that] will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults.” That’s not surprising considering that the current unemployment rate for all workers between the ages of 16 and 24 is hovering around 19%! And it’s worse — much worse for young black males between 20 and 24 years-old where the unemployment rate is a whopping 35% (compared to 19% for while males).

With anemic job creation and even slower Baby Boomer attrition, the author of How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America believes this job slump could “change the nature of modern marriage…plunge inner cities into despair and dysfunction…and warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.”

Is he right? (If the torrent of Congressional exits is any indication, it’s a pretty good sign that joblesseness and economic recovery in the near-term won’t be pretty.)

Within the past 24 hours I’ve read an article reporting that that the level of job dissatisfaction for workers under the age of 25 is at the highest level ever recorded. Another one titled “So You Thought Generation X Was Angry” describes how Gen Y is bearing the brunt of the economic collapse. And a third pointed to how Gen Y feeling left out of job market is causing a big problem for them and the business world.

Concurrently, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) was painting a graphic and bleak picture of an imploding workplace and deteriorating infrastructure designed by Baby Boomers to be paid for by Gen X and Gen Y. In his recent speech on fiscal “state of emergency” he said:

One state retiree, 49 years old, paid, over the course of his entire career, a total of $124,000 towards his retirement pension and health benefits. What will we pay him? $3.3 million in pension payments over his life and nearly $500,000 for health care benefits — a total of $3.8m on a $120,000 investment.

A retired teacher paid $62,000 towards her pension and nothing, yes nothing, for full family medical, dental and vision coverage over her entire career. What will we pay her? $1.4 million in pension benefits and another $215,000 in health care benefit premiums over her lifetime.

He then asked, “Is it ‘fair’ for all of us and our children to have to pay for this excess?” That’s a great question and one which will take a courageous man or woman to look into the eyes of a young unemployed adult today and say, “Yes. I deserve every penny.”

So for the time being, it looks like at least one-fifth of young adults will remain unemployed. Unfortunately when they do get a job, it seems likely that each paycheck will come with a hefty deduction to pay for failures and excesses of a generation gone by.

Is it any wonder then why tension is building between the Baby Boomers and their successors, Gen X and Gen Y?

Also posted on my Workforce Trends blog at Bizmore.com

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Sizemore sizes up ‘Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization’ in HS Dent Forecast

In one of those “this made by day” moments, a friend of mine forwarded a review of my book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization.  The review was written by Charles Sizemore at HS Dent and published in the March 2010 edition of the HS Dent Forecast. Not only was I pleased – no, ecstatic – over the author’s insight and comments, it was especially rewarding because it was completely unsolicited and unanticipated.

The book review in its entirety is posted below.

“What is a generation?” asks Ira Wolfe in his new book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization. “A generation is a group of people who are programmed by events they share in history while growing up… a common set of memories, expectations, and values based on headlines and heroes, music and mood, parenting style, and education systems.”

I would agree with this definition, and would add that it ties in with the concept of generation gap. Parents (and sometimes even older siblings) often do not “get” their kids. They don’t understand their vocabulary. They don’t understand what motivates them. And they absolutely, for the life of them, cannot understand why a pieced eyebrow is cool. (Who am I to criticize…in my childhood, coolness was defined by acid-washed jeans that were tightly rolled around the ankles and permed hair and makeup on male rock stars. Go figure.)

Mr. Wolfe’s book is an interesting study on the relationships between the generations in the workplace. It’s very similar in substance to the generational work done by William Strauss and Neil Howe (Generations, The 4th Turning, Millennials Rising), but it’s much less academic and, frankly, quite a bit easier to digest. Corporate executives who find themselves managing a multigenerational workforce should find the book quite valuable, as should anyone struggling to understand the generation gap in their own home, for that matter.

Wolfe speaks of the generations as if they were single members of a large family. At this stage in their careers, the Baby Boomer managers are “parents,” while the Echo Boomer employees are “kids.” Generation X, stuck in the middle as always, is analogous to an unloved older stepchild, cut off from the nurturing love fest between the Boomers and Echo Boomers.

Of Generation X, Wolfe writes “Coming of age in the shadow of the Baby Boomers virtually ensured that this generation would be overlooked and ignored; like Great Britain’s Prince Charles, they are the workplace ‘heirs apparent,’ waiting endlessly and impatiently to assume leadership.”

And like the unfortunate Prince Charles, their waiting has no end in sight. Gen X is hitting a “gray ceiling,” as the incumbent Boomers refuse to retire and make room at the top. But while Gen X waits for its chance to take the reins, Gen Y is slowly coming up behind them. Given the symbiotic relationship between the Boomers and their “Mini Me,” the Echo Boomers, Gen X is right to worry about being leapfrogged.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Gen X is a very entrepreneurial generation; with the Baby Boomer generation acting as an 80-million-person roadblock to their career advancement, it is understandable that Gen Xers believe that their best chance to excel is through starting their own businesses. Of course, Gen X also watched their parents and older brothers suffer through the layoffs and restructurings of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Seeing quality professionals lose their jobs through no fault of their own made Generation X grow up a little cynical and mistrusting of large companies.

Wolfe also has a secondary theory for Generation X’s independence and somewhat prickly demeanor. While the Echo Boomers were the “trophy kids” who were coddled from birth by their well-intentioned soccer moms who slathered them in antibacterial hand wash every time they left the house, Gen X was the “latch-key kid” generation. They had to fend for themselves at a young age. They also weren’t required by law to wear a helmet and knee pads every time they rode their bike to school, nor were they required to sit in a car kiddy seat until puberty. In short, they weren’t smothered by their mothers (or by the “nanny state”), and they were allowed to be kids — little Huck Finns and Tom Sawyers who got into a lot of trouble but ended up stronger for it.

Don’t underestimate this personality characteristic; you don’t realize how valuable it is until you see the alternative: the neediness of the Echo Boomers (also called the “Millennials” and “Gen Y”). In smothering their children with things like “My kid is an honors student” bumper stickers, the Baby Boomers have created a codependent monster in the Echo Boomers they raised. Echo Boomers require constant attention and affirmation in the workforce. They’re emotional and oversensitive. And they don’t understand why it’s not ok to wear an eyebrow piercing into a place of business if you want to be taken seriously or that it’s rude to have your face buried in a text message when someone is talking to you. (This is my personal pet peeve. Though she is now a married professional in her mid-20s and generally has good manners, my Echo Boomer kid sister has the annoying habit of doing the “Blackberry prayer” when I’m trying to talk to her. Her husband does it too. It’s maddening.)

Wolfe does an excellent job of describing the frustrations felt by managers today:

At school, teachers accentuate the positive. Kids no longer fear the bad report card — teachers do. This generation was treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests in harsh-looking red ink to avoid bruising the child’s precious self-esteem. Managers in turn must now tread lightly when making even the most benign critique…

How did these kids get this way? For many Millennials, few “accomplishments” didn’t rate some type of acknowledgement. In games, it was common for everyone to receive a trophy — win or lose — thus the name “trophy kids…” The lesson shifted from “second place is the first place for losers” to “everyone who plays is a winner.”

This generational tension is a bit ironic. While many managers and most of the media targets the kids, the blame might fall squarely on the very people doing the loudest complaining — doting parents, teachers and coaches. After all, the grumbling Baby Boomer managers are the same indulgent parents who raised the millennial generation after starting families late in life or vowing not to make the same mistake twice with children from second and third marriages.

Wolfe, a graying Baby Boomer, is certainly no crotchety old man wagging his finger at “kids these days.” Quite to the contrary. (If anything, it is me, your younger Gen X writer who fits that description.) Wolfe sees a lot of untapped potential in this young generation. What I might consider a short attention span, an inability to focus, and insufficient attention to detail, Wolfe calls “hyperalertness,” defined here as an “advanced form of mental flexibility.” I would consider instant messaging three friends while simultaneously uploading photos to Facebook, blogging about rock bands, playing Second Life, and listening to an iPod to be a colossal waste of time of absolutely no economic value. I certainly wouldn’t call it “multitasking.” But I guess that makes me old school.

At any rate, Mr. Wolfe’s objective is not to pass judgment. His objective is to help managers better understand those under their control. And on this front, Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization is a useful too. I’d recommend this book to anyone in a position of authority over a multigenerational workforce.

Charles Sizemore, CFA

This book review was originally published in the March 2010 edition of the HS Dent Forecast.

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Coming Soon to Your Business: A Leadership Crisis

Worried about your next generation of leaders?

You’re not alone. According to a new survey about leadership skills from Pearson and Executive Development Associates Inc. (EDA), 57% of business executives said their leadership talent pipeline was the same or weaker today than it was two years ago. Seventy-five percent said increasing bench strength will be their top business priority for the next two to three years. Is this too little too effort? 

When asked what skills were needed to assume executive positions within the next three to five years, respondents cited strategic thinking, leading change, the ability to create a vision and engage others around it, the ability to inspire, and the ability to understand how the total enterprise works. But the respondents also agreed these were the very skills lacking in their current talent pool.

The right successor must have just the right blend of personality, time and experience. And with a more complex and faster changing marketplace destined to be our future, the ability to deal with ambiguity and paradox is paramount. This combination requires innate talent plus development.  Creating this competency can take years and many people just are not equipped to ascend to the role. And others who have the skills and experience aren’t willing to give up their personal and family lives in exchange for a promotion and title. What motivated the Baby Boomers doesn’t motivate Gen X and Gen Y.

In addition to lack of skills, a leadership shortage is all but a done deal. When the Baby Boomers finally decide to slow down or retire, pure demographics will stall the succession. Gen X, the succeeding generation, is little more than half the size of the Boomers. And many Gen X and Gen Y are putting family before careers. 

One more glitch: while three to five years may not be enough time to develop the next generation of leaders, it might also be too long in a competitive market. Many talented Gen X are tired of waiting for the Boomers to get out of the way. As the economy is rebounding, job  offers will start coming in. It is already happening. Competitors and emerging companies are scouring the job market for talent and your next leader could be their target.

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