Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 7 September 2008

“Workforce” – a term of the past

I just attended and spoke on a panel at the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco during the past two days.  It was a fascinating collection of entrepreneurs, techies, investors and business people.  The focus was on Web 2.0 tools and platforms and how they are being incorporated into the workplace.  Many of the presentations and panel discussions were about the technologies, implementation examples and adoption within organizations.  A few of the panels, including the one I participated in, dealt with the people and process aspects of introducing these technologies in the workplace.  Interestingly, one of my potential dissertation topics is related to this area.

My panel topic was “Entering and Leaving the Workforce” (a video of the panel is posted on the conference site). The focus was the fact that we now have four generations of workers in the workforce and the way each generation thinks and works is different.  The sets of values within each generation is different.  Yet we need the talents and expertise of all the generations in order to have healthy organizations.  I love to talk and thinkabout this topic.

What made this panel discussion fun and exciting was the other two panelists.  Daniel Brusilovsky, who is a 15-year-old entrepreneur (www.teensintech.com) and John Vasellina, who is a Gen-Y employee of Genentech, both offered their viewpoints and insights.  Our moderator was Nick Vitalari of nGenera.  I was the “boomer” representative, and hopefully I added a unique perspective culled from my life and work experiences.  A conference attendee has already summarized the panel discussion and posted it to CRM.com – thankfully, the quotes were accurate.

Key points from the panel:

  • Not only do we live in a work world of multiple generations, we are part of a global workforce as well.  That means that cultural awareness and communication requirements exist in multiple dimensions.  Each of us needs to listen deeply and with open minds in order to work well together
  • The concept of “workforce” is changing.  Gen Y and the generation after that do not want to be considered one of millions of workers.  They see themselves as individuals with unique talents and skills and they have an entrepreneurial mindset.  In order to engage Gen Y’ers, large companies will need to create environments that support and nurture ideas and individuality.
  • The configuration of the workplace is changing because people want more flexibility.  Rather than viewing the corporation as a fortress with walls, we can view it as having a semi-permeable membrane, where members of the corporate community come and go.  They may be employees, consultants or other types of partners.  They will collaborate in many different ways, according to different schedules and physical locations around the world.  By allowing this type of flexibility, companies will be able to retain boomers who would retire if given no other options.
  • Gen-Y workers thrive when they are part of a community that shares information and ideas.  Boomers have traditionally kept knowledge in their heads under the belief that the practice provides them job security.  The days of information hoarding are over and we need to extract and preserve the knowledge that will soon be flowing out the door.  We can help each other by being open to learning from each other.
  • Blind loyalty and “company stability” are also things of the past.  With mergers and acquisitions and major company failures, one cannot assume their position is stable.  The commitment of a company toward its employees needs to center around providing challenging, interesting and fun work, a healthy and positive environment in which to grow, and the tools to be successful.  The corresponding commitment of workers is to make a contribution toward the company’s goals, share their knowledge and expertise and promote a positive work environment.
  • I believe that large corporations will not be able to succeed in the near future when 47% of the workforce is Gen-Y, unless they pay attention to these points.  It takes several years to implement new processes and technology, mainly because it takes a long time to change minds.  The technology part is easy, it’s changing the way people think and behave that is most difficult.  Those companies that find a way to adapt into “Next Generation Enterprises” will find themselves in positions of competitive advantage.
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Responses

  1. Nick, you have a good point about not being able to “undo” generational distinctions. We all live in the context of our era. Though we may learn, grow and change over time, we’re still affected by the context of our early “formative” years.

  2. Excellent thoughts and I agree completely. As I work with our clients that can’t figure out why their Gen Y turnover is so high, they are at times completely resistant to their cultural needs.

    I tell them the fact that they don’t want to change is proof of generational distinctives and the need to respect and embrace them if you want to keep the Gen Y worker engaged.

    The thing they forget is that you can’t undo some generational distinctives. My Grandparents grew up during the depression, so the fact that my Grandmother gets mad at me for using a ziplock bag once is not something I can make go away. That is generational and I can’t tell them to stop being that way.

    The companies that make real change the quickest will be the ones that win the talent war at the end of the day.

  3. Terrific insights into the future of workforce structure. It also sounds like a fun and dynamic conference! As a consultant, I am currently working with a corporate structure encountering these exact issues! The good news is that they seem to be responding to the changing workplace needs in terms of flexibility, use of consultants, creative teaming and pushing cross training and engaging projects to their workforce community! It’s proving to not be easy though!! (-:

  4. I agree with you. I can see the dynamics of how college students communicate and relate to each other. With the social networks they work with each other to solve problems, they reach out – there are no walls online.


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