Changing Nature of Work- Why Innovate?
March 29, 2011
Consultants, academics, CEO’s, HR managers, and sociologists have all begun turn their wheels about what Generation Y will mean to the workforce.
There are roughly 83 million people between the ages of 10-34 in the United States; 27% of the population. Also known as “Echo boomers” , generation Y has been on the workforce radar for just under a decade now, and yet, many employers and companies seem to neglect and ignore the vast differences between the way this generation works in comparison to those who have come before them.
Generation Y has grown up with technology, adopted social media early in life and can’t imagine, and likely can’t remember the world without high speed internet. In this high-tech, information flooded world, those under 30 approach life and work much differently than did our parents. According to sociologists, generation y is “less likely to respond to traditional command-and control type of management”, the reining structural architecture for almost all of corporate America, and more likely to highly value their talent and importance to a larger team. Epitomizing the behavior of generation Y, Bruce Tulgan, co-author of Managing Generation Y, shares an anecdote of a young woman who just started a job at a cereal company, and showed up the first day with a recipe for a new cereal she’d invented. This is the way our brains think. We see value in our ideas, and expect others to do the same, regardless of traditional company structure.
While the under 30’s are certainly a new and important breed of worker, the business world and it’s writers/observers seem to neglect to mention this paradigm shift when talking about the future of business. Countless papers, studies, blogs and tweets have been dedicated to the shifting nature of business; the need to innovate, collaborate, and develop business models around the needs of the customers rather than the wants of the business, and yet many seem to overlook why it is that old business processes no longer work. Many attribute the need to differentiate to saturated markets and abundance of consumer choice, but hardly any connect the need for differentiation and innovation with the changing demographics and life styles of the new wave of consumers.
For the majority of our lives, generation Y men and women have had technology tailored, personalized and customized to our needs and desires. Facebook pages have encouraged us to share our personalities and lives with the world, and Youtube has proven that we are all one viral video away from fame; anything is possible, and we are special. But while the echo boomers are convinced of our own importance and individuality, we are also hardwired to share and collaborate with our peers. If companies, which generally tend to change and adapt at the speed of glaciers, are able to fundamentally rethink the ways in which they both acquire talent and sell product, and do so in a way which embraces the changing nature of work, to embrace, they will have a golden opportunity to harness an intersection of individuality and collectivism that will significantly differentiate them in the market.
But this change in corporate cultural thinking is not an easy one. According to a survey by Delaware management consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, “of the 2,500 largest publicly traded corporations, CEOs in the United States are entering offices at younger ages”, somewhere around 50 years old, those who earn the corner office are likely to have been with the company for years, with 31% of CEOs having worked with only one other company. This will certainly not be the case with generation Y, as the under 30’s tend to change our place of employment every 2 years.
Not only is the ladder to the top historically built for those with company longevity and loyalty, middle management may also find it challenging to work with generation Y, as we tend to disapprove of rigid structure and managerial hierarchy. It is perhaps this frustration with antiquated business models and structures that has led an increasing number of twenty somethings to strike out on their own and start companies where innovation is the name of the game and control lies in their hands.
Of course there are still hoards of young college grads who would sell their right arm for an internship and a 60 hour a week work week, but for the most part, generation Y wants to creatively redesign the way they earn a living and the tools by which they do that, and it is in the best interest of business to recognize the ways in which this generation operated and try it’s best to mimic it.