Be prepared for the next generations

We are arriving at another crossroads: a company needs to decide whether they want to adapt themselves to the next generations that join their ranks or to have them follow suit. But the millennials, centennials and synthetic generation have different needs and don’t want to be compromised. So how to prepare yourself? Here I will make the case for taking that first step and stop confining your staff: judge people by their skills!

My observations

As I joined Sogeti my first interview was with my now-unit manager. At that time, I had been working in infrastructure and steadily climbed to the level of an architect but wanted a change. My interview was on software development, something I did not have great experience in. However, instead of talking about all the things I didn’t know too much about, we spent our time looking at what I had been doing and what were my skills. It was a good conversation leading to an opportunity to prove myself. Being enthusiastic about this I took it, and this leads me here.

Now as I joined the company, a couple of things happened: I got assigned a business unit and a rank. This is what normally happens when you join any company. From that point on, any assignment came to me through these channels. This process is similar in all companies, but it does have some side effects:

  1. Sales is filtered through this one dimension. A person is found by going to the most likely unit and selecting the best fit there. This could lead to a suboptimal fit, in statistics a local maximum.
  2. An employee’s growth is matched to the available patterns. Any unit may have their growth paths set, confined to what is considered a good fit in that context.
  3. Getting an assignment for another unit is very difficult unless you are properly connected or have a particular skill. In that case, it is only difficult.

The effects mentioned here have one thing in common: the primary focus on personal growth is mapped to one dimension (the business unit and its growth path), and from the perspective of the company itself.

Taking control

It has always been the case that employees searched for ways to improve their skills, and some would use their own time to take courses or practice. However, as generations progress, this effect has snowballed. The new generations feel the need to take control, and they will organize. We see the dramatic rise of the company guilds, massive increase in organized meetups for knowledge sharing, a booming growth of startups and the growing culture of digital nomads.

It may seem to someone who was raised with classical values that value above all else a stable life with house and kids, that this new generation is avoiding responsibility. However, if you take a closer look you will see that exactly the opposite is happening: they value above all else their ability to make a change and matter. In a society where it’s next to impossible to get a mortgage, a declining climate and companies that fail to use their potential it makes sense that these generations have decided to take matters into their own hands.

My solution

I talked about the division of the company into units or departments. As far as I’ve seen these have always led to barriers within the companies, organizing staff on one dimension. They are used as convenient management tools, and I would advise you to get rid of them.

Instead, look at the initiatives set up by your employees. If they organize guilds and get together based on a shared set of skills, make this an integral part of your organization. Recognize these from a sales perspective, find a way to integrate them in your company structure. If your employees say they have a set of great skills, acknowledge this and stimulate them to pursue this, get the systems in place to manage this.

Your greatest assets

As a closing note, remember the greatest asset in a company are the skills held by the people that populate it. All these people want is to show them to you, and to be helped in developing them. The best thing you can do is support this.

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Edwin van der Thiel

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