The way we work and the attitudes, values, strategies and technologies in today’s workplace are changing at a rapid pace. The demographics of the workforce are shifting too, and organisations and leaders that stagnate and fail to adapt to and embrace these changes run the risk of damaging their long-term business success.
Today’s workforce consists of a wider cross-generational mix than ever before. This will only intensify during the next few years, with Generation X increasingly assuming the top leadership positions, Generation Y vying for those leadership roles, and Generation Z entering the workplace.
Without following blanket generational stereotypes, it’s essential to think about the different learning and development needs of today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. At the top end of the business, many senior employees are deciding not to retire. How does this affect the development plans of these individuals? What impact will it have on the career plans of younger workers in their team? What are their preferred styles of learning? And how can they best share their legacy knowledge and experience?
Meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many new Generation X leaders don’t have the skills, experience and confidence they need to navigate through the increasingly challenging global and multi-generational workplace. During the recession, Generation X became the forgotten generation – a generation that kept their heads down low, patiently waiting to take over the reins. Unfortunately, many missed out on vital training due to budget cuts, which has resulted in a pressing need to focus resources on the right learning and development opportunities to accelerate the leadership skills of these individuals.
Generation Y is set to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025 and brings a different set of skills and expectations to the workplace. Many of these individuals are rising quickly through the management ranks and some have already secured leadership positions. This is a generation that is resourceful, technologically-savvy and quick to learn – all increasingly important leadership attributes. However, it’s a generation that favours experience over a career, so if the right opportunities aren’t in their pipeline, they’ll move on.
It’s critical that organisations and their HR and learning functions tackle the different challenges and opportunities presented by each generation of leaders in the workplace with more innovative, engaging and effective learning and talent management strategies. Here are five tips for successful multi-generational leadership development:
1. Get to know your talent better
Each and every generation has so much to contribute to your organisation, so make sure you have a deep understanding of who your talented people are and their individual aspirations. This will help you find the best ways to motivate, challenge and retain them. In a rapidly changing business environment it’s important to gain a good measure of your talent’s potential to quickly acquire new knowledge and skills. While processes are essential for effective talent management, informal discussions can often unearth hidden talents and a clearer understanding of an individual’s ambitions.
2. Learning at the speed of need
To be agile and stay relevant, leaders and potential leaders need to open themselves to learning from every person and every source around them. Rethink your learning content so that you can support learning at the point of need and try and find ways to unite employees from different generations. The best learning is collaborative and continuous, blending formal and informal techniques to accommodate the different learning styles and preferences that exist on an individual and generational level. Learners are increasingly proactive and are using technology to support their learning. Mobile devices are becoming ever more important in enabling interactive content to be delivered anywhere, anytime.
3. Focus on career progression
Your organisation’s ability to provide the right career development opportunities is essential for engagement and retention regardless of generation. Using talent mobility initiatives to move individuals from role to role, both geographically and cross-functionally, can help bolster skills and accelerate personal and business growth. Such initiatives also enable your organisation to provide a ‘new experience’ which is particularly attractive to Generation Y.
4. Integrate your talent processes
Software systems that integrate core HR initiatives including learning and development, performance management, talent management and succession planning help organisations to build and keep track of a more flexible talent pipeline which is essential in a rapidly evolving business environment. They also enable learning and development resources to be prioritised towards high-potential employees and future leaders.
5. Don’t leave succession planning to the last minute
Identifying high-potential talent and succession planning needs to take hold as early as possible within an organisation. All too often, succession planning is limited to the top levels of the organisation and is reactive rather than proactive. For potential candidates to be ready to step up to the top management level, serious development needs to start early. Try and encourage your current leaders to take up the baton of succession and be involved in planning the pass to those coming up behind them. After all, they have an important viewpoint on the skills their replacement should bring to the team.
The most successful organisations and leaders draw their strength from every generation in the workforce. HR and learning functions have a key role to play in supporting the building of a collaborative culture, where everybody works together and learns from each other in harmony to achieve personal and business success. Change is constant, and an increasingly multi-generational workforce with the ability to inject fresh and innovative ideas should be seen as a huge advantage.