Outdated thinking – managing younger people

I was recently working at Manchester Business School, training a group of very senior military people who were about to re-enter civilian life and we started to discuss what’s changed over our lives and how this might affect the way that we manage people at work.

What emerged from the discussion is that most of the talk about management methods assumes that the people we will be managing think as we do.  Looking around the room, we realised that we were all either approaching, in, or at the back end of middle age and that everything we were talking about reflected our ways of thinking.  The new generation of people starting work is simply not like us.  We grew up in a working environment in which things moved relatively slowly, people had some expectation of longevity in an organisation, there was a reasonable distinction between working life and home life and career progression might be relatively slow and time-served.

New graduates have no such expectations.  There is a theory that most will have around seven different careers during their working lives – note that this is careers and not jobs.  The first job is likely to be a stepping stone to something else and that something else may be a in a completely different field.  Slow has given way to fast and there is some expectation of instant gratification: “if you can’t provide this for me here and now, then I can always go somewhere else for it”.  With lower expectations about ever getting on the property ladder, young people are more prone to spend than to save.  They have a genuine social conscience and, whilst many expectations are still paying lip-service to corporate social responsibility, many younger people have a real drive to see greater social justice.  Where we might have gone from school to university to work, many young people have used their gap year not only to travel but to volunteer and work in environments which we may even consider hostile.  This in its turn breeds a level of confidence that I’m not convinced was so widespread when we began working.

Our management books focus on managing in a world which is fast being eroded by social, cultural and technological change.  Can we afford to keep training people to manage others in our own image?

To discuss any aspect of organisational development, leadership and management training, soft skills development or simply pass the time of day, please call me on +44 161 929 4145 or email me at david@davidcotton.co.uk.

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The stability paradox

Apparently, Tom Peters once claimed that the paradox for organisations is that they have to  pursue change whilst maintaining stability.  I wonder if the notion of stability is a myth? It used to be said that leadership talk the future into existence and managers manage the status quo. Status quo (literally “the state in which”) is taken to mean the current state of affairs.  Some have interpreted that to mean a static, stable situation.  Of course, it neither is nor ever was.  Stuff happens; things change.  Managers manage in changing times.  If there’s change, there’s no real stability, so the paradox disappears.

If a company has a good and viable strategy, then reaction to external forces will force change to the execution of that strategy – and if instability means it’s not standing still, then the change means instability.  If the strategy is not viable because of external forces, then the strategy needs to change.  The change means instability.  If a company chooses not to notice outside forces, it will probably fail – hence, more instability.

So, back to Tom Peters’ assertion.  Pursuing change is necessary.  Instability is a given.  No paradox.

Have a good weekend.

To discuss any aspect of organisational development, leadership and management training, soft skills development or simply pass the time of day, please call me on +44 161 929 4145 or email me at david@davidcotton.co.uk.

What’s new, pussycat?

The music industry was for some time in denial of the simple idea that fewer people are now interested in buying CDs if they can download tracks from the internet instead. They were late entrants into a field which could have netted them huge profits sooner, had they been prepared to accept that their business model was no longer working.  Instead, they made themselves unpopular by decrying piracy as people illicitly downloaded tracks from rogue file sharing websites, whilst lacking the foresight to set up something similar themselves.  Some years ago, Microsoft were late entrants into web-based society, not initially seeing the potential uses of the internet in their business.  Now we see cloud computing (itself simply a newly rehashed version of the old idea of workstations and file servers) threatening to replace desktop copies of application software and desktop data storage.

A great question for every business, regardless of size, is “Is my business model sustainable?”  If you continue to do what you have been doing to date, will your business survive?  Is there any danger that you have buried your head in the sand, ostrich-like, hoping that some new fad or fashion which might affect you will go away?  Is there something new on the horizon which could actually present you with a real opportunity.

The old PEST analysis model may seem hackneyed but it still has relevance.  In its latest incarnation, as a STEEPLE model, it can be even more useful if only as a checklist of the areas to which you need to pay attention to ensure that you are, as far as possible, predicting what may hit your business from the outside so you are prepared to manage it from the inside.

STEEPLE stands for:

  • Social
  • Technological
  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Political
  • Legal
  • Ethical

The last word, “ethical,” is the new kid on the block and is not going to go away.  Whether you like it or not, corporate social responsibility isn’t just a flavour of the month and needs some attention now. It’s worth spending some time with your colleagues brainstorming everything you can think of which falls under each of these headings and  assessing the likely impact on your organisation.  Don’t worry unduly about sorting out your brainstormed ideas into neat categories; there’s lots of overlap between the STEEPLE categories and it’s purely there to kickstart your thinking.

When you’ve listed everything which may affect you, give it a weighting according to the level of risk it poses, assess when it may hit your business and consider the level of urgency you may need to apply in managing it.  Be searingly honest in your assessment of risk.

Now you have your weighted, risk-assessed list, revisit your strategy and judge whether you need to refine it to accommodate the findings of your STEEPLE analysis.  Remember that strategy is dynamic and at least viscose if not entirely fluid.

Now you can sleep a little easier, knowing that you have made the first steps towards embracing what’s new and what you can’t or shouldn’t avoid.  The next steps can be exciting, because they give you an opportunity to look at your business afresh and gauge with a little more certainty what you have to do to make it work and keep it working.

To discuss behavioural skills training, any other aspect of leadership and management development or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.