The business of Business – Y knots unravelled

We wake up every morning to a world awash with acronyms, cutely coined descriptive wrap-around marketing generalisations and the like. It’s almost as if we’ve come to expect our world to predigest for us our understanding of what’s around us.

Hence the oldies among us romantically reminisce about the Baby Boomers – those of us who lived through the tumultuous times which saw the emergence of TV, Rock’n’Roll, decimal currency and who coped with the traumas of first the Korean and later, the Vietnam War.

We’d barely become accustomed to the social revolution which all this created before we found ourselves dealing with Generation X, the members of which discovered the era of the PC, the challenges of AIDS, the tolerance towards divorce and multiculturalism.

If that was not sufficient turmoil, please welcome Gen-Y, today’s internet and mobile phone, ipod connected youngsters. While their forebears were clearly documented, today’s mid-1980s born late teens and early twenty-somethings are entering a workforce which is remarkable for its trend charting dichotomy of vacancy numbers dramatically up and unemployment equally dramatically down (heading for below 4 per cent).

Creative management
Segue back to 1965 and the iconic “My Generation” album by The Who’s Peter Townshend which rocked (in more senses than one) Britain’s staid society by highlighting the generation divide of the day. Four decades on and little really has changed except for the fact that the current so-called rebellion is more cerebral than that of its fisticuffs-favouring forebears.

Today’s Gen Y is more intelligent, more travelled, often multi-lingual and quite specific about the ways in which it communicates. Firmly focused on mobile phones, myspace and MSN messaging, this is a generation that breaks all the previous moulds, particularly in its media consumption, almost derisively turning its back on the conventional.

How to attract and retain this September 11-impacted, environmentally aware and globalisation confronted group to an ever increasingly competitive workplace – the printing industry is no exception to other employers – requires some sensitivities which previous business owners would never have imagined to be part of employee relations.

For a start, they are having to accept that quick career paths are the flavour of the month; jobs-for-life-with-gold-watch-sendoffs are destined for the history books. Since industry competitiveness often demands retrenchments as part of everyday occurrences, company loyalty is difficult to retain unless a mix of creative management is applied.

The most important component for staff retention today is career planning. Today’s peripatetic employees want to feel there is a future being planned for them within the organisation and in realistic terms this means a set of timeframes no more than 18 months or two years between steps. If that’s not top of mind on both sides of the fence, they will move on and all the costly training and familiarisation processes go to waste.

Everybody wins
But there’s more to the mix. Talk to any HR consultant worth his/her salt and such components will enter the equation as flexible hours, constant communication flows (two-way, if you please) and a platform which enables ideas to be put forward to management and readily listened to.

In this month’s Trade Trends there is a reference to a US education approach which encompasses what employment specialists should be advocating to their Gen-Y employees for our industry. Make it exciting, show a friendly and relaxed culture, they encourage.

Another teaspoon of sugar in the recipe is a positive social environment. The workplace has to be fun to come to before a Gen-Y response is positive. Evidence of the importance placed on this by progressive employers is the recent innovative policy by forward-looking enterprises to add the need to co-ordinate social activities that help build relationships (some even go further and have appointed full-time personnel to oversee this function). They aim to have in place regular after-work social programming – – some as often as every night of the week. The thinking behind this verges on the simplistic – – the more social events, the more people will make friends within the company; the more people make friends within the company, the longer they will stay with the company. Ergo – – everybody wins!

Hence the task of attracting and retaining staff needs to start with the Gen-Y values in mind. While a competitive remuneration package is a given, there has to be more. It has to be spelled out in a way which gives the prospective youngster a feeling that he or she is entering an environment where they will be understood, where their career opportunities are clearly spelled out, where they can expect to find flexibility of approach by their employer, and where they can be sure of a relaxed culture (none of that “I’m-the-boss-so-you-do-what-I-say” stuff), and a supportive immediate supervisor.

Leadership crucial
But beyond all theoreticians and sociological generalisation is another perspective of which potential employers of the Yers should be aware.

Gen Y accounts for almost a third of today’s total Australian workforce. Given their technological awareness and their scepticism of social conventions, they are bound to be vocal in their preferences, their opinions and their value judgments.

But there is a school of thought among sociologists that – like any minority (and for the moment they remain such) – there is always a vocal segment which society seems to accept as articulating the views of the majority. Not so, say people who have researched the subject and who are convinced that behind the self-identification noise is a whole phalanx of earnest youngsters who behave not very dissimilarly from their parents’ generation.

Hudson Australia/NZ chief of staff, Gary Lazzarotto, is quoted as saying that behind the I-want-it-now syndrome and the focus on generational differences which tends to categorise Gen Y, there is a tendency to obscure the larger, more important issue of developing effective leaders who connect with and inspire their people. He added that given the current skills shortage, the calibre of leadership in organisations competing for scarce talent is crucial to attracting and retaining high-potential people across the different generations.

The secret to success in this elusive search for the right people seems to rest on the ability of the boss to listen, to build sound relationships with his employees and engage with staff members, regardless of their age. That said, it would seem hypersensitivity is the order of the day with all staff recruitment, not just when it comes to today’s often cynical, if technology-savvy, youngsters.

After all, before long they will be replaced by … heaven knows what!

Management needs to be different
An unhappy, unproductive workforce is the subject of August 2007 released management manual, ‘The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A fable for Managers (and their employees)’, by American author, Patrick Lencioni.

“No one is immune to job misery – – it touches every profession imaginable, from restaurant service worker, to middle manager, to sporting superstar,” says bestselling author Lencioni, who offers a practical solution for managers to end job misery – one that’s both simple and costs nothing.

Lencioni urges managers to address three areas with their people: anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurement. The first, anonymity, is cankerous when employees feel management has little interest in their career or their interests.

“People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority,” he contends.

The irrelevance factor sets in when, as Lencioni says, “everyone needs to know that their job matters to someone. Without seeing a connection between their work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfilment.”

The third factor, lack of measurement, sets in when an employee cannot assess for him/herself the contribution being made to the success of the company.

“Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person,” according to Lencioni.

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