OLDER AND YOUNGER
Both the management and the employees of a major distribution company equated years of service with superior expertise and judgement. As younger, more recently educated employees and managers were acquired, the organization began to experience an costly high rate of turnover as well as an increasingly expensive level of dissatisfaction among long term employees. What everyone saw as a New Normal battle of generations was, in fact, a failure on everyone’s part – regardless of age. They were unable to recognize or appreciate the need to coordinate new ways of seeing and doing things with deep knowledge of historic and emerging customer needs. The solution was not to focus on the battle of the ages. It was to develop a program which refocused everyone on the significant forces and changes affecting the market in general and affecting key customer. Bringing all people together around the newly discovered possibilities created a shift in the company’s business planning and execution. This shift proved to benefit everyone involved, including the customers.
WHERE WILL IT END?
In their segment of the retail marketplace, one of the most important elements of revenue generation was real time, technology-oriented staffing and availability of merchandise. While this did eliminate positions, that wasn’t the root cause of the drop in employee performance. It was a growing feeling of helplessness and despair. Regular imposition of disruptive technologies on retail staff without their participation or ownership left them feeling as if they were working in a big, impersonal machine – their New Normal. Management had not understood or seen that their own sense of urgency in implementing disruptive technologies would inadvertently destroy the individual-ownership-of-business-success that had been a big part of the company’s history. Long time employees felt trapped and, like an airborne virus, this had infected younger employees. “Where will it end?” became the common rallying question. In this case, we were able to bring key younger and older influencers together to create a culture turnaround that didn’t negate the disruptive technologies. It wouldn’t have worked without the participation of both employee segments.
WHERE DO NEW, GREAT IDEAS COME FROM?
Young associates in a big professional services firm were trapped. If they had great ideas, the partners usually didn’t want to hear about them. If they pushed too hard they were pulled off the partner track. The culture was essentially, “I suffered to get where I am. You need to suffer, too, until you can generate a lot of billable hours and work.” New, smaller firms were sprinting up in the marketplace to compete. Some were virtual. Some were brick and mortar. All are more nimble and less expensive – emerging evidence of the power of New Normal. The managing partner was a closet subversive and pragmatist. He knew that a majority of the associates and a few of the partners had some really great ideas that weren’t getting to him. He and I worked together to build a Great Idea Machine mechanism that would bring new concepts directly to him without getting caught at the practice manager level. We also worked on the associate recruitment process to make potential great ideas a new element in the hiring template. The managing partner’s biggest challenge was to demonstrate to his partners/practice managers that all of the new ideas were making a bottom line difference. We were able to do this by including bottom line predictions in the formulation of great ideas to begin with.
I DON’T WANT TO WORK FOR SOMEONE YOUNGER THAN MY CHILDREN
In manufacturing experience – often hard won through previous failures – is usually a huge factor in success. An experienced work force of older specialists found itself suddenly invaded by a crop of new hires; younger men and women with less experience but much more recent educations. It was rapidly clear that many of the new employees were actually better qualified as leaders than the longer term workers. Why? The older leaders had worked as managers with the same people for so long that they didn’t have to think about it. The younger people had much more recent leadership training and a much better grasp of technologies. Neither group of people was ideal. Both had important contributions to make. The presenting problem was silo-ing and in-fighting. The underlying truth was that the company had done a miserable job of aligning the culture with New Normal realities:
age is no longer the sole determiner of wisdom and ability
many older workers are working for a variety of non-traditional reasons (health care benefits, extended purpose and engagement, extended full and part time income, retention of professional and personal relationships) that have little to do with wanting yet another promotion and more responsibility.
In the end we found that many simply older specialists didn’t want to work for people younger than their children because it felt like a demotion. Leadership and I had to find a variety of strategies and tactics to alter the historic age-and-position-is-power-and-identity culture that was going to eventually trash the company. A consultant couldn’t fix it alone. Neither could leadership. We had to work together and enlist the support of key influencers across the company.