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A couple of weeks ago BBC Radio reported a conference trying to understand how to manage Generation Y workers. Findings were interesting, yet not easy to interpret or put into action. We have a broad understanding of what distinguishes the 15-30 year-olds from their despondent Gen-X predecessors: they were born with technology; are natural networkers and multi-taskers; work needs to have meaning to motivate them; and, until very recently they had no concept of what a recession looked like. Because the majority of Y-ers are still at school or in fairly junior roles, we have no way to find out if this generation will change the world of work as we know it, or if they will revert to more traditional behaviours once they have to pay the bills and take their holidays at fixed dates. We have important issues at hand: do we need to redesign work and organisations as we know them? Which models of leadership are likely to stick in 10 years? At this stage we can only hope for evolving insight and IBM has recently published research worth sharing. They run a yearly CEO survey (existing leaders) and this year asked 3600 students in 40 countries the same questions. The results are contained in the Inheriting a Complex World. How does the experience of constant connectivity, instant news at all levels and their immersion in green issues pretty much from birth influence their perception of the role of business?

  • They perceive the economy to be a lot more complex than before yet have confidence in technology to help them analyse issues; they expect leaders to use today’s abundant information to provide predictive insight. This is a departure from the previous generation’s focus on simplification and action-focused modelling.
  • Students do not perceive the boundaries of organisations as rigidly as incumbents: for instance they expect global businesses to play a role not only inside their companies but also in their supply chain, as well as worry about the sustainability of their products. In this respect globalisation for them increases responsibility and therefore risk, as opposed to lowering it through diversification.
  • Whereas today’s leaders were influenced by the Cold War, students see Scarcity of resources as the next big challenge and with it comes business responsibility.
  • Finally, students see global thinking as an essential leadership quality, a much higher score than that given by incumbents.

So Y-ers represent a formidable opportunity: true citizens of the world aware of their responsibilities. The challenge for companies is to live up to this expectation… Please send me your comments and links to other Generation Y stories: this is a young topic and thinking is only emerging…

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