Was that title a bit 'click-bait-y'? Don't worry, I'm not bashing any generations here, but knowing the generations of people working in your organisation are critical to developing a Performance Improvement approach that actually works. If my click-bait hasn't turned you off, have a read of my perspectives, and see what you think!
I spend every working hour focusing on a single vision - making it easier for people to be better, in their own way.
Sometimes this is through transformation programmes, sometimes it's by working with my team of expert associates to build incredible experiences. And other times it's one-on-one, with Coaching clients (business, and professional).
A problem my corporate clients have been faced with a lot in the last few years has been 'Performance' culture. Or, more specifically, how to genuinely transform their organisational culture towards a more meaningful culture that encourages, empowers and rewards continued performance growth, at an individual and team level.
In my hours of conversations with people across the world on this matter, something has stood out more than anything else...
Employers have a generational disconnect, of the likes we've probably not faced into before, that they need to solve so they can genuinely nurture the performance culture they want.
Full disclosure: There are some broad generalisations in the rest of this post - simply to illustrate the points I'm making without making this an hour-long read!
What is this 'disconnect'?
In it's simplest form, it's the reality that younger generations tend to blame the previous generations for ruining the world, and the older generations always complain that 'it's not like the old days'...
That won't change. Especially for us Brits - complaining about things and doing nothing about it is a national past-time ;)
But seriously, I've spent a fair amount of time in recent months deep into understanding the current situation. Here are some thoughts I wanted to share with you about why there's a generational disconnect across organisations that's inhibiting cultural transformation:
1. Decision Makers and Budget Holders
Many decision makers, or budget holders, are Baby-Boomer/Older Gen X and entered the workforce up-to 50 years ago, with some major world-events occuring through various stages of their career. 'Work-first' was common mindset for these people throughout the early stages of their career and it's left a lasting impression of their expectations of others.
2. The experts and specialists delivering Performance Improvement
A majority of the 'experts' and 'specialists' responsible for making change happen, or delivering performance improvements are Mid-Younger Gen X/Millenials and entered the workforce during the dawn of the internet age.
While they've experienced an array of world-events these have been fundamentally different in scale, and impact, when compared to the likes of the 70s and 80s (though current events may well change this for all of us!)
They've been at the forefront of digitalisation for most of their lives, and have seen a more 'plentiful' and 'connected' world than their predecessors.
3. Our future experts, specialists and leaders
Our future experts, specialists, and leaders - those who are going to be setting the tone for decades into the future - are, right now, new entrants into the workforce holding junior roles.
These are, in the majority, Gen Z. Most of their lives have been documented online, they're internet savvy, they're informed, they're more open, and beyond Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, they were probably young enough during other major events in the early 2000s that they don't remember them.
They've been more empowered than other generations for much more of their early years, and they've developed (rightfully, in my personal opinion) an expectation that work-life balance is precious, and something they should control.
What has this got to do with building a performance culture?
Those in charge of transforming the culture, or holding the purse-strings.
They entered the workforce long before computers were a thing, never mind Smartphone, Social-Media and the billions of data-points at our disposal.
The early years of their careers were more likely to be heavily focussed on work, and heirarchy often wasn't a thing to be challenged. Workers Rights, Human Rights and Equality weren't as strong as they are now. Jobs-for-life, final salary pensions, affordable housing, and accessible healthcare are, compared to today, unrecognisable, while apprenticeships were for those who wanted to join a trade.
They've paid their dues, and worked their way to the top. They've a vast amount of experience over a number of decades. It's their turn to call the shots now.
Those 'doing' the transformation work, or asking for budget grew up in the digital world.
They were sold dreams of a golden age of automation, improved work-life balance, and wealth. But it didn't quite work out. Youtube, and social media happened, so did the Blackberry, and the iPhone. Changes to the housing market, pension age, pension options, and healthcare mean they're experiencing their middle-years in a whole new world compared to those who came before.
These people are often of an age where rocking the boat too much puts their livelihood, and that of their young families at risk, so they'll pick their battles carefully.
They're specialists in a field with years of education and experience, if not the seniority, and an awful lot of 'stuff' lands at their feet to deliver - even if they don't believe in it.
Our next leaders, innovators and revolutionaries!
These people grew in a world where apprenticeships were for everyone - not just tradespeople. They've lived through the age of austerity, while also experiencing instant gratification - digitally and physically. They've also got to live longer with the impacts of things like Climate Change, Long-term financial impacts of Covid, and the war in Ukraine.
Advertising, social-media and influencers are have told them, every hour of every day, that they can have the world. But only if they do this 'thing' because they're not perfect, and everyone else is. It's been a pressure-cooker of stress and anxiety that those of us in the older generations have never experienced.
And depending on your perspective, the shining light of this generation is that they're more informed, more open and expect work-life balance, equality, fairness and compassion as a minimum from their employers, and careers.
When you compare all of this you can see that there are an incredible range of perspectives, experiences and mindsets - add into this the globalisation of the workforce and you have a very complex workforce you need to lead, support and develop if you want performance to improve.
So, who and what do you prioritise to drive performance?
Do you disregard the new workforce? These young pups have never had it so good, get with the programme and struggle through like the rest of us had to!
Or maybe we disenfranchise those nearing retirement - So-long Boomer! You've had your time, leave the rest to us...
Or how about we all just think of ourselves - screw everyone else...
We could even just ignore the people and set really stringent KPIs that people must hit, or lose their job?
See the problem? There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to solving performance and productivity problems - it's far more nuanced. And I'm only really talking about people's age. When you add into the mix different socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and removing barriers to genuine equality, the challenge grows exponentially.
On an almost daily basis I'm presented with a client/clients who want to solve these problems with something that is 100% guaranteed, easy, and really low cost. This means most of my time in these conversations is spent simply bringing them back to reality!
Here's my perspective...
When looking at any kind of performance problem for your inter-generational workforce, there are three things I'd always recommend:
First - Be clear about the point of what you're trying to do
Yes, I know you think you're clear about the point of it all. But maybe cut the business bullshit and get to the core of it all... It's either about reducing costs, increasing revanue and profit, or both. Why else are you in business? So instead of trying to blow smoke up the ass of your workforce, telling them how much you care, and value them (while doing everything you can to make them work harder, for the same/less??) why not be up-front? We're all adults. This is a transaction. I do a thing, you pay me. I can survive - and hopefully thrive. Yes, there are broader elements to consider and yes, unless you're some kind of sociopath, you want to look after your people. But be under no illusion, if your employees became overnight millionaires most would have no issue quitting on-the-spot... ...Back to my point - Be clear with your people about what you're trying to do, so they can consciously engage with the conversation and not dismiss it out of hand as 'business bullshit'. There's no shame in talking about wanting to increase profit margins - one of the best way to do this is to improve performance. And hey! Guess what! One of the biggest factors for individuals to improve their income, their life and their fulfilment is to improve their individual performance.
Second - Know your people
When your people know what you're about, and why you want them to improve performance, the next challenge you face is encouraging and empowering them to do it in a way that's best for them. Take a look back at what I said about Boomer/Gen X - they've spent decades doing 'courses' or reading 'manuals'. Then there's your younger millenials and Gen Z - they've spent their life Googling things and accessing 'tutorials' and 'guides' instantly, on the move. So understanding your own people is essential to enabling performance improvement in the right way. And before you get ahead of yourself thinking your annual EOS survey will do the trick, get back in your box - it won't, and never will. You get to know your people by speaking with them (not at them). Get out there with your leaders, and your people and build a relationship. While still not an ideal solution, focus groups can be useful too.
However you do it, once you know who your people are and what makes them tick, it's exponentially easier to build a performance improvement approach that's relevant to the majority of your people, instead of just going with the idea of those sat in their Ivory Tower believing all the promises of their LinkedIn ads that promise a quick fix.
Which brings me onto the next bit.
Finally - It's not going to happen overnight
It never will. I've never promised it to my clients, and I won't. It's relatively easy to get a short, sharp increase in results in most industries but it dissapates just as quickly as it occurs. Meaningful, impactful and long-term performance improvement across your organisation happens with time.
Think about it this way. When you've started to be more clear with your people those who found that your organisation was still the place for them are still here and those who've realised that they don't fit in this culture are already looking for a way out. Next, when you've got to know them, found out what made them tick, and you've built a performance improvement initiative attuned to them you can start to tell them all about it. You now have the ingredients for an award winning dish.
But remember - just like a Michelin Star chef, getting the ingredients together is one thing, writing the recipe is another. Making the dish takes time, care, and attention. The first time they tried it, it probably needed some tweaking - a higher temperature, a little more, or less of somethin, or maybe a different presentation of the dish. The years of experience, and hours of practice finally culminating in their pièce de résistance! Landing your performance improvement initiative, and seeing the results in data, profit, or culture, will take time - just like an award winnind dish.
It will always need to be tweaked - sometimes in little places, sometimes a little more broadly. And as your older employees move towards retirement, with new entrants to the workforce bringing new attitudes, experiences and qualifications, you'll need to continually evolve your approach to driving performance. That's without considering the external factors.
Okay Boomer. Now what?
Now? Get yourself off this blog and go do something about it. Obviously!
Maybe go and have a look at the people in your organisation. Find out how much the generational disconnect is impacting your people. Consider what you can do about it. Then do it...
About the Author - And Apples Performance and Learning
This is where you usually get the obligatory profile, and pitch - feel free to skip it, but I'd rather you didn't. Hi. I'm Andy. I'd rather not bore you with a profile, when you can find out what you need here. So take a look, or don't - it's quite literally up to you. Also - I could give you a really slick 'sales pitch' about how Apples Performance and Learning can help you navigate through the minefield that is Performance Improvement. But I won't. To be frank, this post is already too long, and I'm bored of my own 'voice'. If you want to know how we can help you - check this out, or this. Beyond that, if you've made it this far, thank you for sticking with me. Hopefully you agree with my points, and find some value in them. If not, please feel free to correct my perspectives - I won't learn anything new otherwise! email@example.com