Why we aren’t giving the “new” workforce what they want
Who exactly comprises the “new” workforce? Most likely, your mind went generational, and applied this term in that vein. Perhaps you briefly thought of new employees within your organization. You may have applied the term universally to anyone entering a new career. While this may largely be comprised of the millennials and generation Z, this also applies to those who are entering the workforce at a later stage in life. But what about those of us who adapt and evolve? Those of us who are open to new experiences, challenges, ideas and opportunities? Those of us who are resistant to change, content or happy where we stand? How about just thinking of the “new” workforce as all of us…the “modern workforce”?
When we read studies, observe behaviors, read social media articles, or are just in tune with society, we know that the workforce, and people, have evolved. Unfortunately, no matter how much we read or know, so many of our organizations have just not caught up. If we are approaching this from an HR/business process perspective, let’s use an example that states the following: long gone are the days where employees seek meaningless, exhaustive performance appraisals. That said, feedback…i.e. meaningful, timely feedback is something all generations crave. We seek out feedback both in our personal and professional lives. We desire to know where we stand in our relationships, and we seek specific, relevant feedback than can help us progress, advance our knowledge and position, and solidify and grow our relationships.
In addition to such feedback, autonomy and flexibility are often items we think of with the new workforce, but more importantly, how about versatility? Stability? Financial reward? How about development and opportunity for growth and advancement of skills/our career paths? A recent Forbes article discussed the volume of Generation Z entering the workforce. The article states they are looking for good money, job security, opportunities to advance rapidly, excellent mentoring, the chance to showcase their competitive nature and more. Where I struggle is, are these really qualities of just one or two generations? Although I read more and more that these are characteristics of millennials and generation Z, honestly as a former HR executive, I know these qualities to be important across all employees. This includes generations, different socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. We all have evolved, and while there are differences among us, let’s not be so quick to pin characteristics only on certain groups of people.
As stated, development is also strongly valued. Knowing that, why aren’t most of our organizations meeting this basic employee need? Various studies show anywhere from 60%-80% of companies do not have a formal learning management system that fuels development. A Gallup poll recently showed that only 21% of employees strongly agree that their company’s performance management process motivates them. A recent Business Insider survey shows 71% of millennials are dissatisfied with their development plans and are planning to leave their employer in the near future. Maybe not all of these aforementioned characteristics are important to each of us, but one or more apply to all of us.
Let’s get back to our example about performance appraisals. We know that all generations value specificity and meaningful feedback, yet so many organizations are still mired in long, exhaustive appraisal cycles. We are riddled with a lack of trust, including long approval paths for anything that needs to be moved forward. We are so concerned with measurements (which are very important), but seem satisfied measuring many of the wrong items…items which hold no real business value or are not actionable. Reporting to the CEO that our average accountability score is 4.3 out of 5 is not actionable. Scoring an employee in March on items that happened 14 months ago is not useful. A long workflow that goes through 9 steps and multiple approval stages is not practical in an agile world.
Think of a calendar year, and nod along (or off to sleep) to this scenario. We are supposed to be delivering final appraisal feedback/scoring in December; however, because we have outdated processes that are not relevant, timely, specific or interesting/meaningful, appraisals rarely get completed. Next thing you know, it’s March, and 45% of our appraisals are still not completed. We are almost a full quarter into the new fiscal year, and we still can’t tie a bow on the prior year. Are you really interested in spending time in March on objectives from last year? Of course not. So why aren’t we changing, and why aren’t we giving the new/modern workforce what they want?
Every executive roundtable has discussed its organization’s appetite for change. Do we welcome it? How does our staff handle it? Are we good at developing change management principles and do we communicate and execute well? While these are important discussions, Harvard Business Review tells us that there are some significant reasons we (people) don’t move forward with change. When we know change is coming, we fear we will lose control in areas we may currently have control over. We become uncertain about what’s next for us, and as creatures of habit, we are frightened. We dread more work will come with change, and we are fearful that new processes will shed a negative light on the old ones we developed. As a result, we feel we will lose face and begin to feel incompetent.
I get it, change can be scary and intimidating. Changing a business process, switching software, moving to a new town, leaving an abusive partner, etc. The unknown can intimidate us, and the “what ifs” will paralyze us. But as we deal with HR and business processes, or life in general, I choose to look at it a little differently. We aren’t necessarily “changing”. Many times, we are simply “catching up” or moving through phases that we might have had to endure to get to where we need/want to be. And sometimes, we have to go through long periods without good process, innovation, support, care, positive relationships, etc. to get to a better place in life.
Take something like music for example. Most people have their favorite genre or decade. And when we find that era that we love most, we often look at the prior era and think less of it. Here is your example. The 80’s. For many people who loved 90’s or 2000’s rock, they look at the 80’s and think it was a dumpster fire. But for those of us who didn’t like the 80’s (I am not one…I loved them, because who doesn’t look good in a “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirt?), we need to change our perception to understand how it was a necessary part of the evolutionary journey.
So what does this have to do with HR/business processes? Well, we unfortunately had to go through a long period of ineffective performance management, lack of development, and poor understanding of people in order to get to a much easier, relevant, meaningful way of managing people. We had to evolve our understanding of relevance, and develop trust to craft better process. We needed technology to advance in order to have better collaboration or allow remote work/flexibility. We had to suffer through the 80’s to get to the 2000’s, music fans. My question to you now is, how much longer do we need to keep suffering through the 80’s to get to where you want to be? Are you prolonging the 80’s unnecessarily? I know you love that t-shirt, but it may be time to break it out only on throwback day at the office.
Here we are, 2018. My iPhone recognizes my face, I’m playing Jeopardy on my Echo Show (I promise, I do have actual friends too), and an AI chat bot can fix my internet connection. Many of us though, are still mired in outdated processes and approaches to people (personally and professionally). Fraught with fear of change, we are paralyzed daily by our inability to act. So here is the call to action. Stand up. Embrace modernization of HR/business processes. Ditch the old irrelevant processes… long appraisal cycles, lack of investment in learning and development, lack of trust in approval processes, lack of flexibility and inability to manage by deliverables. Stare fear down, and no longer allow it to own you. I keep mentioning the personal side too. Invest in those around you. Seek feedback on how you can improve. Be vulnerable and open to change so you maintain the relationships you value.
You won’t be seen as incompetent, and you won’t lose face. You will be seen as someone who truly values improvement, and is ready to progress through the 80’s to get to the 2000’s…because you care about those around you. You want to be at your best for your loved ones, your employer, and you want to contribute to continuous improvement by staying relevant and versatile.
Spend some time thinking about what the modern workforce wants. Investigate your processes. Are they truly meeting the needs of this workforce? If not, you will suffer massive retention issues, face incredibly difficult uphill battles with talent acquisition, and be irrelevant as an employer in your industry/market. Do not prolong the 80’s. Do not be afraid to admit it’s time for something new, and please be the one to act on it.