Succession: Y are we waiting?

Not too long ago any story about Generation Y, the current crop of 18 to 30-year-olds, would have discussed how brash, demanding and self-centred they were.
We were told that Gen Ys had grown up in world of instant reward and recognition. Praised by their parents for getting out of bed in the morning, given certificate at school just for turning up, they lived in world of constant reassurance.
And this, claimed the experts, caused problems for employers when Gen Ys eventually entered the workforce. Suddenly, they felt unloved. Employers had to change tack to appeal to them, using toys, free car parking, flexible working, unblocking Facebook from the IT system and offering free gym membership.
For few years the Gen Ys had bad rap. But this generation of demanding wannabes are little older and wiser. So too are the Baby Boomers who manage them. But unlike previous generational crossovers, the gap between the Gen Ys and Boomers is perhaps the biggest in living memory: two generations separated by culture chasm.
Gen Ys have grown up in multi-cultural world with little regard or thought for the geographic boundaries their forefathers fought to protect. More technically savvy than any other generation, they really can multitask – talking on the office phone, texting and reading an email all at the same time.
While some CEOs print off an email, scribble note on it and ask their PA to send the reply, Gen Ys think nothing of replying from their PDA on the fly – wherever they may be.
It is this different approach to work that can cause Baby Boomers to be wary of Gen Ys, says David Jones, managing director of recruitment firm Robert Half Asia Pacific.
“People question Gen Y’s work ethic, but all that’s really different is their work style,” says Jones. “The elder generation always think that the younger generation works less. But they just work differently.
“What is different with the Gen Ys is the technology – they communicate more via social media – be it Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or email. There is lot more non-verbal communication going on. And there is sometimes belief that people hide behind that. Whereas if you speak with Gen Y person, their perception is that if you communicate in writing you are communicating more effectively.
“Many years ago we’d have conversation and be asked to put it in writing – today some verbal conversations have been replaced with typed text.
“If you speak with Gen Ys they probably don’t think too much of the generation above them. Nothing derogatory, but they probably think they are bit slow because they don’t embrace the variety of communication methods, channels or tools and that decision making is too slow.”
But there are murmurs in the boadrooms up and down the country according to Tait Grindley, learning and development business consultant at the New Zealand Institute of Management. Grindley spent years in the recruitment industry before joining the institute and has first-hand experience of what makes Gen Ys tick when it comes to recruitment, retention and development.
“Some of the feedback I have been getting at the institute is that there is caution about bringing on Gen Ys,” he says. “Senior managers realise that Gen Ys are the future, they realise they are the ones who have got lot of knowledge when it comes to things such as technology, social media networking and doing things faster and better.
“However, the nervousness is generally based on the fact that they are not too sure how long they are going to stay. The old school style of trying to lock them in to senior role doesn’t work. Baby Boomers don’t have faith in the younger ones to stay because there tends to be two or three-year turnaround with lot of the Gen Ys.”
Nevertheless, Grindley says companies are heavily investing in Gen Ys because they know that they add value when they are there.
“I guess there is reluctance to hand over the keys, I think it is control thing,” he says. “Gen Ys are still interested in the here and now – they are more like impact players off the bench. They come in, do their thing, they serve purpose, suck up all the information, figure it out and take it to the next place. That is the beauty of them.
“But when you are trying to build business – it is not ideal. Especially in older professions such as law or accounting where you have partners and people who have been promoted through tenure, then there is real low tolerance for Gen Y. Gen Ys are seen as the future, but not – right now – as future leaders.”
Zuza Scherer has built career out of helping New Zealand companies understand what makes Gen Ys tick – she’s one herself. An award-winning public speaker, she says her generation is starting to realise that job hopping isn’t getting them too far up the corporate ladder.
“Gen Ys are getting promoted,” she says. “But it is the ones who demonstrate they are prepared to put the effort in to gain the necessary experience and prove they won’t go travelling next month, or decide the career is not really for them.
“Baby Boomers have huge baggage of experience, which sometimes prevents them from seeing things afresh. They know how things should be done, but often can no longer see the new ways in which they could be done.”
Nevertheless, she says CEOs should be cautious about inviting apparently dedicated Gen Ys to the top floor, unless there is strategy in place to manage them.
“While Gen Ys may have what it takes to step up and take on senior positions, lot of them have never had chance to try out those roles and gain the crucial experience they need,” says Scherer. “Gen Ys, even those in their late 20s, still require lot of mentoring – they want to be mentored.”
Marc Burridge, general manager at recruitment firm Hudson says from the research the firm has done on Gen Ys, there is nothing unique about them and that what is taking place now always happens when one generation nears retirement. He says the solution is good succession planning and mentoring.
“Succession planning should be constant in any forward-thinking organisation,” he says. “If you think about what’s been available to Gen Y since they entered the workforce, purely from technological point of view, it’s no wonder they are the instant, now, me, generation. They’re used to getting what they want, when they want it. Instant gratification in terms of media, access to information and knowledge.”
Burridge says the primary motivational factors for Gen Ys at work is around learning and development.
“What they’re looking for from leaders is people who are authentic and who will embrace and encourage them to continue to add to their skill set,” he says.
“If you understand Gen Ys from that perspective, you’re then able to think about using them in the workforce.
“We’ve seen great success where organisations have put Gen Ys into leadership roles, but ensured they are supported and, in some cases, shadowed, by people with greater experience.”
It is view shared by Jones who says Gen Ys actively look for mentoring relationships with older and more experienced workers.
“That mentoring relationship is more about the thirst for knowledge,” he says. “There is lot of information out there – but nothing can replicate personal experiences like verbal conversation.”
Kate Billing of employment branding and company transformation firm Blacksmith wonders if today’s managers are capable of successfully bringing on Gen Ys into senior management roles.
“It comes down to management competency,” she says. “Are they capable of bringing through younger people and do Gen Ys even understand what their managers do – other than to delegate tasks?”
On one hand she wonders if Gen Ys understand what it takes to be manager and on the other if their managers understand the world Gen Ys have come from.
“Gen Ys have grown up in an education system where everything is clearly mapped out, they have strong sense of steady progression – until they hit the workplace,” she say

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