Avoiding the stress of Generation Why

2006

Companies are just beginning to wake up to the havoc that the newest generation of workers is causing in offices across the globe. And adapt they must, because it is they who will dominate the workforce for the next 70 years or so.

Here's an idea - take your leadership team and the HR Director shopping.

More accurately, take them to Top Shop in London's Oxford Street, one of the UK's most successful retailers.

In there, on any day, you will see thousands of your prospective employees - the Millennials.

When you have recovered from the shock of the noise and the buying frenzy, start to watch the behaviour of these customers and to examine the elements behind Top Shop's sustained success.

More deeply, begin to think about the relationship Top Shop has with your future employees and ask the question why are they in Top Shop and not in the many hundreds of alternatives along Oxford Street?

Let's start with the environment within the store. There may well be a fashion show running when you are in there. There will be models, lights, cameras flashing, music, excitement. The very latest fashions and designers will be on display. You see, you are not in a store; you are taking part in an event.

Now look at what is on sale. It is at the cutting edge of design. It looks and feels that it should cost a lot more than it does. And it is flying off the racks. If you are there long enough, you will notice that if an item sells out, it is not replaced. Equally, you will not see any items discounted.

This is because Top Shop places its faith in its customer. If an item doesn't sell that is all the data they need to take it away. If it does, that shows them that their design instinct was right and they will bring a new range in to replace it.

If you came back two weeks later, you would not recognise any of the clothes on sale from your previous visit. Top Shop amazingly, has a two week turnaround for their entire stock.

So let us do the analysis over a cup of coffee round the corner in the relative calm of Carluccio's Italian Deli in Market Place. This has not been chosen by accident because if you look around you, you will see communal tables with you prospective employees multi-tasking whilst enjoying their frappacinnos.

Top Shop has created a design marketplace at prices their customer can afford. They invest in world class designers; market research in the form of travelling the world discovering the latest trends so that they stay ahead of the curve; leading edge systems so that they have first class, instant readable data and stock management; best in class buying and manufacturing; highly trained motivated staff and excitement in store.

Millennials are not looking for career paths - they are looking for life paths.

Primarily, they invest in their relationship with their customer, and they in turn are looking for a similar experience from their employer. Millennials are not looking for career paths - they are looking for life paths.

Your competitors are in school halls right now offering to fund gap year adventures for school leavers. The people making that offer on behalf of your competitors are 18 years old. They are representing world class companies with aplomb. They are not their parents currently sitting in Carluccio's with a headache.

The 2002 Universum European MBA study found that students were seeking personal development, learning and diversity, as opposed to security, from their prospective employers.

So what learning can you gain from Top Shop?

First - not only because of Millennials, but because of the need to deploy your human capital as productively as possible - you must envisage tearing down the silos, functions and hierarchies that exist within your business and replacing them with a talent marketplace.

And what's a talent marketplace? A free flowing, market driven work environment where the talent flows to where the customer need or the value creation potential is greatest.

You need to ensure that in order to avoid chaos, there is total understanding of, belief in and alignment with the vision of your business, its core purpose and the key strategies that will lead you there.

You need to replace the systems you have with sophisticated systems that deploy your human capital with optimal efficiency and impact - and which give you the quality and speed of data that you can act upon immediately.

Linked to that, you must become fanatical about capturing the data of the customer interaction/sale and feeding it back into the system so that you can manage quality control.

You must create a multiplicity of means to capture, develop, invest in, deploy and celebrate the ideas of your people in relation to helping the business add value and grow.

You must revolutionise your reward and remuneration system to make it much more linked to the individual and what motivates them.

You must make the responsibility to fulfill the vision personal and you must make accountability specific to each individual.

You must transform how you communicate with your people. To help you with this now that you have had your coffee, walk across to the Apple Store in Regent Street and sit in on one of the many daily seminars. Here you will meet many more Millennials sucking in knowledge about how to explode the experience, reach and intimacy of the world they live in.

A podcast has more potency, relevance and impact than any company newsletter ever has or will

A podcast has more potency, relevance and impact than any company newsletter ever has or will. You must be able to speak the language of your employee and in their medium of choice in order to be heard. There is no such thing as a corporate message any more (at least not one that has a prayer of being effective).

Having shattered the silos, fiefdoms and hierarchies, you must embrace and encourage communities reaching across and beyond your organisation, which are created and then disappear as if by will.

What of all the people who currently work in the existing structure, what about them - won't they rebel? Well, some will and they will leave to work for a competitor who hasn't been shopping.

But for those who are left, aren't they the ones who are frustrated with the bureaucracy; with the endless meetings about nothing in particular; with thousands of emails; with not being listened to; with lack of resource; with all the politics; with the "time it takes to get anything done around here"; with all the rules and regulations; with creative 'awaydays'; with not knowing what's going on and not knowing where you are going?

And who then leave work and "become themselves" again'?

Finally, you must ensure that the beliefs and spirit of the organisation (its culture if you like) is alive and meaningful. When you walk into your company it must feel alive not only through your people but with your unique spirit and values. These must act as the primary disciplining force, not 'the boss' or the HR guy. Everyone should feel it is their responsibility to guide or correct those who fail to respect these values.

And it is these values that your customer should feel every time you engage with them.

Look around you in the Apple Store. Are you part of an experience? Are the values and spirit of that company alive within the building? Do you feel better/cooler being part of it? Are you learning about yourself and your potential employees? Are you itching to buy an Apple iPod? Have you looked at Apple's share price lately?

Here is the offer.

Go back to work and forget this ever happened. Take an aspirin. Tell the story to your colleagues and have a good laugh.

And then watch your company not only lose the talent war, but the competitive war also.

Or, go back and start the revolution and never look back. Begin on your own life path – and in doing so, unleash your company's human potential.

About The Author

Neil Cassie
Neil Cassie

Neil Cassie has 20 years of advertising agency experience and is founder of The Cassie Partnership, a consultancy that assists CEOs of large organisations to close the gap between their company's vision and their peoples' behaviour.

Older Comments

I couldn't agree more about what's going on with Gen Y and the workplace. It is not a local problem; the war for talent is heating up in many parts of the world. There is much to do to get generations to all pull in the same direction without driving each other crazy. I am beginning to tackle related topics.

Harriet Katz New York City, NY

As the parent of a 19 year old who hated school and is now moving up the corporate ladder in retail because she is extremely smart and ambitious, I can only say that you understand this democraphic extremely well. What a pity more parent groups and many teachers are too apatheic and self-involved to find out what makes these wonderful young people tick. I think you need to write a book about your findings. Thinking like yours would do a lot towards healing generational resentment so that old and new genrations could share their particular gifts with each other. I am a former teacher who has never lost the feeling of excitement that sharing a learning journey with a young person used to give me. Thank you for reminding me of it and for demonstrating that there are others out there who are connecting with these amazing young individuals and making the effort to understand them!

Kenya Lowther Perth, Australia

I stumbled upon this article by doing a 'generation y' search and all I have to say is: Finally! Being a generation y'er (born in 1984) and recently entering the workforce I found out that I don't work or think like my co-workers.

Don't make me come in from 8 to 5 dressed in an image that was created decades ago. Performance based, talent driven, casual, flexible and creative are the buzz words of my generation. Note to Roger Daltrey: It's 'My Generation' that is being brought down, belittled, disrepected and forced to conform by Your Generation, now. Let me come to work when I feel like it. The world is electronically connected now; why am I chained to a desk, a building, a time of the day?

Thank you for understanding generation y. I will let everyone know you wrote this article when we take over the world!

R. Flowers Houston, Texas, USA

What a lame article! ''replace the systems you have with sophisticated systems that deploy your human capital with optimal efficiency and impact'' There is no content whatsoever in this; It feels more like the an outline with dynamic titles than an actual informative article. ''And what's a talent marketplace? A free flowing, market driven work environment where the talent flows to where the customer need or the value creation potential is greatest.'' How insightful, I think I could have learned more from a 'EARN $$$ FROM HOME!!'' infomercial on FOX.

It's all just weak, sorry.

Metodi Montreal

Honestly, as a Gen-Xer (born early 70s), I really don't know what this article is about. Advertising IT companies like Facebook are flash-in-the-pan and don't create jobs for the many. It's a media fairy tale of a Gen-Y cultural paradise; most work hasn't changed. In essence, any white collar worker (telecommuter plus voice/IM, or not), is expendable when there are even more nascent white collar workers coming up in countries with a considerably lower standard of living then the established western ones (US, Canada, UK, W Europe, Oz/Nz). All and all, expect Gen-Y and beyond to be broke in the west (thinking asset bubble collapse) and the ones coming up in east Asia to be well off and prosperous but working in a manner, similar to the Gen-Xers of today.

RandyMan Boston USA

I think most of the observations in this article about teenagers \ new entrants to the workplace are basically right. But what I haven't seen is any decent research that differentiates being Gen Y from being teenage. When I was a teenage GenX I didn't want to feel restricted by a bunch of rules, a hierarchy, being made to wear a suit etc. either. Even claims that GenY is much more tech savvy don't seem to be holding up: most bloggers are 30 , Facebook is as much a Gen X phenomenon as a Gen Y one. A recent British Library survey found teenagers to be no better (and possibly slightly worse) as using the internet to find information than average. So whilst I'm still interested in what makes Gen Y special, this article shed little light on the question.

Sam Marshall UK

Facebook is a flash in the pan is it!! Hmm, Hindsights a great thing.

Like the article and although difficult for X's to cerate an environment for Y's etc it is relevant and good thinking that if you want the best from employees then deliver what they want. Someone said the 'customer is always right' and employees are customers of HR that need to buy in, and be account managed to ensure they perform at their best and stay long term in an environment in which they work best.

Whats wrong with fluffy, hippy thinking (soft) we all love it..... but seem that creativity, fun, flexibility, charisma and lughter are not applicable Mon - Fri.

Pity!

Steven E Guildford, Surrey