Outdated thinking – managing younger people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.