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The Lie That’s Robbing Our Future

Did you ever find yourself halfway through a major shift before you realized it was happening? Like a frog in pot of water sitting over an open flame; halfway to boiling before you even realize the water is warm? Well, the water is heating up in the workforce and it’s time to pay attention before we get cooked!

Did you ever find yourself halfway through a major shift before you realized it was happening? Like a frog in pot of water sitting over an open flame; halfway to boiling before you even realize the water is warm? Well, the water is heating up in the workforce and it’s time to pay attention before we get cooked!

In 2015, we saw a huge generational shift when Millennials became the majority generation in the workforce. For the previous 34 years Baby Boomers were the majority and in a position of leadership within virtually every industry. That is a very long time for any one generation to be in charge. Management practices created by their values and cultural expectations have become so ingrained as to seem unchangeable. But they will change with the new majority generation, whether we’re ready for it or not.  

Not only are Millennials the new majority, but by the end of this decade 78 million Baby Boomers will turn 65 years old. With so many Boomers retiring, more than a fourth of Millennial workers will be stepping into leadership positions. This shift is a documented fact and yet, according to a 2015 Deloitte study, only 31% of global human capital leaders believe their company's leadership pipeline is "ready". Which means our leadership is aging and we don’t have a great succession plan.

The reality is Baby Boomers aren’t sure if Millennials are ready to lead, and Millennials aren’t sure they want to lead what Baby Boomers have built.  It might seem like we’re at an impasse. My colleague delivered a Q & A on this topic recently when an audience member said, “There’s nothing we can do about it!”  She’s not alone in that frustration. Many people are frustrated by the disconnect between generations in the workforce, but it is a lie to believe that there is nothing we can do about it.

Many things are going to be changing in this next decade as we adjust to the new majority, but to do so successfully the first thing that needs to change is our attitude. To change our attitudes, we must start by acknowledging a couple of things.

First, it’s time to acknowledge that the leadership practices of the past will not work in the future. Not even if you dress them up in a new logo or put a foosball table in the break room. It’s time to acknowledge that Millennials, and the values and cultural experiences they bring, are not going anywhere. Not only are they not going anywhere, but they are going to shape our future.

For many organizations this is going to mean going back to the drawing table and inviting new people to the table. XYZ University CEO Sarah Sladek writes about this in her latest book, Talent Generation. She writes that after 16 years of workforce research she has discovered a significant truth. Sladek says, “Any organization that wants to succeed in the 21st century must provide a means for entry-level talent to work in close collaboration with executive-level talent.”

Secondly, inviting new people to the table means acknowledging that different (and younger) generations have something of value to offer. This is not about bending their way of thinking to older practices. It is about bending older practices around new ways of thinking to remain relevant in the 21st century.

The first wave of successful change is always internal and easily practiced. Change your attitude and you might just change the future.

Jodie Swee

Together we’re better. This is Jodie Swee’s motto when it comes to generational differences. She has spent the last twenty years digging into the psychology of Millennials and is passionate about helping to bridge the gap with older generations. Jodie's background in sketch comedy sprinkles humor into the realities of our multi-generational workforce.

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