Gen Y: How Can We Innovate For The 21st Century Workforce

27 October 2016

Adam Kingl  is the Executive Director of Thought Leadership for London Business School Executive Education. In his role and through his scholarly explorations, he teaches companies how to modernize for the 21st century. His research shines a light on how the  leadership  paradigms of Generation Y can pave the way for the future of business .

We spoke to Adam to find out exactly how companies can make the adjustments needed to fit into this changing  world, what employees and employers actually want from each other, and how businesses can cope from a financial and workforce perspective with the fast pace of staff mobility.

Many companies find their traditional work practices outdated and not in line with the modern changing world. How can managers and leaders be sure that they have a business model fit for the 21st century?

Due to the ever faster pace of business, competition and technology , business models are no longer ‘set’ for decades. They need to be evaluated on a fairly regular basis.

How can we retain the top talent and promote 'incredible' performance?

Beyond questioning the fundamental principles of one’s business model - such as ‘Who is our customer?’, ‘What are we offering the customer?’, ‘How are we offering it?’ – there are internal questions that I would encourage companies to ask in relation to their work practice. These include: ‘What is our value proposition to our employees?’, ‘How do we attract and retain top talent?’, ‘How do we ensure our work environment promotes collegiality AND performance?’

Just to explore the question about attracting and retaining top talent, organisations need to spend more time creating or refining a strong, shared purpose; fairly continuous development opportunities for their people; and work-life balance.

Development does not mean simply ‘promotions’. In fact, if companies had to offer promotions at the rate at which Generation Y sometimes expects them, a graduate recruit would be the CEO within four years! Development may include mentorships, projects, more senior responsibility, shadowing, secondments, and mobility to other offices, to name but a few.

Work-life balance is often misinterpreted. I have not observed that Generation Y works fewer hours. They want to work more flexibly rather than sitting in an office 9-5, Monday-Friday. Companies frankly need to demonstrate greater agility in this area. Europe  is behind in this respect; research shows that 70% of United States employees will be working from home at least part of the week by 2020.

The USA are in the lead in terms of work-life balance

What is the secret to creating a high-performance team?

There are any number of factors that influence team  dynamics.

First, a lot of research demonstrates that trust is the fundamental quality that a team must possess if it has any hope to be characterised as high-performing.

Second, constant dialogue is important. Research has shown that unless teams have an opportunity to discuss change, developments, issues and opportunities before the leader makes a big decision, it will be exponentially harder to get the team’s buy-in for that decision.

Third, I’ve seen teams under-perform because there isn’t a strong ethos of accountability and ‘hitting your numbers’. Those teams are sometimes very friendly with one another, and working together is a pleasure, but there needs to be a balance of the tension between being friendly and managing low performance.

In the survey that you conducted for London Business School on emerging leaders, you mentioned that new Gen Y employees coming into a workplace on average expect to stay there for no more than 2-5 years, so employers need to 'exit their employees well'. Can you elaborate on how this would be possible?

I should first say that it’s important to exit people well so that you have a good chance of working with them again in the future.  If Generation Y expect high mobility among employers, then good employers at least may have the opportunity to work with their talent multiple times across their careers. In that manner, a company may benefit from an employee’s varied experience; perspectives as a competitor, customer, supplier, or substitute product or service; development and training, etc., without having to pay for all those valuable perspectives, training and experiences!

Gen Y's are likely to stay in touch and form an alumni network with their previous employers

In terms of the exiting process itself, too often companies treat employees who resign as ‘personas non gratas’, which can leave the employee feeling incredibly unvalued. With nothing useful to do, the employee has plenty of time to contemplate how poorly they are being treated. Would anyone question, then, that the employee has vowed never to work with that organisation again!

Therefore, I think a better way is to engage in a rich conversation with the employee who is leaving: ‘How can we help you during your transition? How would you most want to utilise the time you have remaining with us?  Let’s catch up regularly and continue to explore how we may be of service to one another.’ In this manner, if for no other reason, the organisation enriches its external perspective by keeping in close contact with its ‘alumni’.

Professional services are typically great at this – fostering alumni communities who quickly become clients, suppliers, or sources of helpful information. Many of those alumni do return to their firm for another term.

According to the same survey, it has never been more important to have meaning in the workplace. How can companies ensure that they are giving their employees a sense of meaning and greater purpose?

The assumption behind this question has never been more true. Generation Y demands meaning from their work – how are we making our employees, customers and our world better? Recent articles in the press are showing that Generation Y are leaving so-called traditional graduate employers, such as banks, to work for non-profits  since they are not finding meaning with their first jobs. Of course, any employers can create a strong, shared sense of purpose, so long as it is authentic, personal to every employee, genuinely meaningful, and there is clear, unwavering commitment to that purpose.

More employees are searching for meaning in their work

This process of articulating and living one’s purpose has to operate on two levels: the individual and the organisation. It involves helping people be clear about what their story is and what they want to get out of their world of work beyond earning their daily bread.

Your research for the survey has brought to light some prolific findings meaning that the workplace will need to innovate. How do you ensure you are working in cohesion with these modern practices in your own role at the London Business School? And what is your next research project on?

London Business School Executive Education has genuinely embraced the practice of articulating and living ‘What is your story?’, ‘What is our story?’, and ‘How do we connect the two?’ We also are incredibly committed to developing our people.

Indeed, this is even more important as a non-profit university in order to attract and retain talent!  What I am most proud of recently is our commitment to experimentation as a mechanism to promote innovation and constant reinvention.

London Business School is experimental in its processes

I’m now exploring in more detail what the paradigms of leadership will be for our next generation of leaders. We have some answers, but I’d really like to forecast with confidence the answer to this question, ‘If we find that our youngest employees wish to be led differently than previous generations, then how will they lead when they assume leadership positions ?’ If our organisation will be led in a significantly different manner, then perhaps the nature of business and work-life itself will undergo seismic shifts in the near future. I passionately wish to help organisations understand what these shifts will be, and how they might be ready for the changes.

Thank you, Adam. It is clear that companies need to think about their work practices and what they can offer their future employees outside of the traditional expectations in order to innovate to produce leaders of the future.

Looking to book  Adam Kingl  or other speakers on  leadership ,  change ,  teamwork ,  innovation  or  business ?

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