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Stuck with talent that just won’t grow up?

Barrie Bramley, chief imagination officer, advises companies to abandon Boomer Thinking in favour of X-er Integration.

Diversity, innovation, six sigma, decentralisation, Jack Welch’s 70/20/10, Kai-Zen, Feng Shui. These (and others) are strategic focus areas into which most companies have invested many resources and much energy with the intention of creating a distinctive value proposition. But the significant focus of the day has shifted and thanks to ‘The War for Talent’ – a well-written research document by McKinsey Co. – ‘Talent’ has taken centre stage on the organisational agenda of precedence.

In a globalising world, with a shortage of numbers in the developed world, and a shortage of skills in the developing world, the attraction and retention of the best possible people inside an organisation is crucial. Along with this and its associated challenges is the emergence of a new ‘kind’ of worker. From a values perspective, they have been described as Generation X, with Generation Y following on their heels. A fundamental building block in engaging with the skills shortage crisis, is understanding these generations – specifically their value system and worldview. The challenge lies in building the best possible model to ‘attract, recruit and get the best from them’.

What then, is the younger set of today looking for? Insightful observations that can act as signposts include:

Work – Life Integration

Boomers (age 40-60) entered a working world with little mobile or wireless technology. Work and home were quite separate and seeing them as such is an easier concept for Boomers. For Xers (age 20-40) it’s very different. Work and home have merged. Ricardo Semler in his book, The Seven Day Weekend, asks, “If I send e-mails on a Sunday evening, why can’t I watch a movie on a Monday afternoon?” Why not indeed?

Today’s younger set wants an environment that understands the challenge of work-life integration, not work-life balance, and gives them space to solve it for themselves.

Outputs Driven Environment

In order to effectively integrate work and life, you need flexibility of time and space. “Tell me what you want from me (the output) and not how to do it (the input).” Of course, not all work processes lend themselves easily to an outputs driven environment. An outputs driven environment must be seen in the context of, and as an enabler for, work-life integration.


Quite simply, loyalty is not a familiar concept for today’s younger set. The nineties saw companies driving efficiency, and downsizing was part of this streamlining. Xers watched parents who had given their lives to a company lose their jobs overnight. Xers arrive at your business and don’t expect you to commit to them for the long-term. In return, their message to you is that you shouldn’t expect anything different from them.

Their longevity mantra is ‘no shorter than three, no longer than five’, yet most organisations are built around a far longer retention cycle. Today’s younger generation is leaving for opportunity to increase the number of pages on their CVs in the ‘work experience section’. From their perspective, it ensures advancement. So abandon the idea of long-term retention. Rather get the most out of them during their tenure.

The skills shortage we’re faced with isn’t going away in the short-term; however, we can manage our response and influence the environment around us but it’s going to mean changing how we see the world and embracing a new way of going about our business. Today’s young people do represent amazing talent. If your strategy thus far has been to wait for them to grow up and become like you, you have a long wait ahead of you.

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