Succession Planning And The Emerging Generations

Succession Planning and the Emerging Generations

Seven Trends You Need to Know

Key Takeaway

As the millennials come of age, successful organisations will  understand what this next generation of leaders care about, how they apply their attitudes and the values they embrace.

Look forward a few years from now. Who will be leading your organisation? Perhaps it will be the same people. Perhaps some will have changed. Perhaps the next generation of leaders will have assumed responsibility.

How will they be different?
What experiences and expectations will they bring to the job?

As I have worked with and surveyed those in their twenties and thirties, it is becoming abundantly clear that they will apply their own attitudes and values to the roles they assume. While this is not surprising, it might be instructive to examine how these attitudes and values will manifest themselves in fulfilling these roles.


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Here are seven characteristics to look for as this evolution takes place:

First, they will be skeptical. Those coming of age over the last 20 years have discovered that many of the institutions their parents had taught them to believe in are not necessarily valid benchmarks.

Working hard doesn’t provide job security. Marriage is not forever. Leaders, at all levels, do not necessarily make the best choices. For these reasons and others, they’ve become more likely to question established rules and authority than to follow them. This characteristic, of course, has made its way into the workplace and has evolved into a sense of dubiety about management. When their supervisor says, “Follow me. I know what I’m doing,” for instance, they’re likely to think, “I’ll believe when I see it.”

They will be comfortable taking veteran leaders to task if they detect inconsistency or what they perceive as out-dated practices.

As they assume responsibility within an organisation, they will be more likely to challenge the status quo and question the veracity of practices that have been in place for years. This is not to say that they simply will stir the pot for fun.

Be assured that they will come with well-prepared arguments and research. They will be comfortable taking veteran leaders to task if they detect inconsistency or what they perceive as out-dated practices. Consider the ramifications of this as you implement succession planning and prepare to transition organisational responsibilities.

Second, they bring better formal training to the workplace than any generation in history. The uncertainty in society has encouraged them to become self-reliant and well prepared for unexpected life changes or unforeseen opportunities. The pursuit of college degrees is at an all-time high. Trade schools are busting at the seams with enrollees. The media is full of messages about getting the best training possible.

This is all coupled with their never-ending desire to collect skills, licenses, certifications, experiences and titles, that they believe will position them for the future responsibilities they seek.

That said, one must be circumspect when selecting these individuals for leadership roles. While they can appear directed and enthusiastic, their resumes and bravado can sometimes mask a deficit of experience or expertise. On one hand, they may bring their training in strategic thinking and resourcefulness to the table. On the other, they may lack the discernment that comes with having spent years in the trenches. It’s your job to ferret out these differences.

We see abundant evidence that many are more comfortable communicating via e-mail than by picking up the phone.

Third, they are invested in technology as a solution. While veteran leaders have grown used to the electronic gadgetry of everyday life, this emerging generation uses technology to its fullest. Having entered the workforce during the proliferation of computer-based solutions and convenience, the keyboard and mouse are the first places to which they turn in searching for resources, and answers.

We see abundant evidence that many are more comfortable communicating via e-mail than by picking up the phone. They also tend to view this as more expedient, especially in the face of the workforce veteran who wants to share “one more story.”

As these same individuals assume leadership roles, they are bound to change the way many tasks are handled, from strategic planning to communicating vision.

Why sit around a table when you can attend the meeting from your place at the beach? Why spend three hours analysing the numbers when computer modeling will do it for you? Why fly to Paris to communicate the corporate vision when your Avatar (yes, Avatar) can make the presentation in your place? How will these attitudes about technology impact your succession planning process and implementation?

Fourth, they embrace globalisation wholeheartedly. As author Thomas Friedman observed in The World is Flat, the globe’s economies are merging at a pace few recognised even five years ago. While veteran leaders may still view this phenomenon with a bit of wonder, many in this generation of professionals have been contemplating it for years.

They are comfortable reaching out to potential partners and prospects overseas and will be the first cohort of leaders to place a true emphasis on training the workforce for commerce that takes cultural diversity for granted. As they assume increasingly responsible roles throughout organisations, they will embrace the value of language training, cultural integration and the economic tenets of other nations.

Consider how these values and expectations might impact your view of the organisation’s future and its strategy. Consider as well, the nationality of those who will assume these roles. Those operating globally are finding in-country managers more effective and more affordable than ex-patriots. Will you find your organisation’s succession planning efforts taking on an international flavour over time?

Fifth, they look at a job as a contract rather than as a calling. The career-oriented emphasis of the older generation has never been shared by those presently in their twenties and thirties. They have seen too many examples of long-tenures resulting in layoffs and the constant parade of business “transitions” related in the media.

While this generation is ready to throw their all into a challenging, growth-oriented position, they are not looking to climb the traditional succession ladder embraced by their parents. They tend not to become too socially engaged in the workplace for fear of losing their objectivity when a better opportunity comes along. Asking them to eat, sleep and breathe the corporate mantra may appeal to some, but just the same, they will remain detached.

This is nothing personal. It’s business.

When these individuals feel they’ve outgrown the position, when they conclude that their upward mobility is slowing, when they simply feel restless, they may leave for another position.

This is nothing personal. It’s business. But the impact of this practice can have a monumental effect on the succession planning process.

Young managers within your organisation, for instance, may leave for a competitor after having completed all the training and development you have invested in them. At the same time, you may recruit managers from your competitors who have participated in the same kind of programme within those organisations. So it is conceivable that over time you may be training your competitors’ future leaders and they yours.

Sixth, they view work as one slice of a more abundant life. It is fairly safe to say that older workers live to work and this generation works to live. We’ve seen this in young managers who turn down advancement opportunities that interfere with family obligations, involve too much travel, or place them in stressful positions for which they do not perceive a long-term advantage.

The managers we’ve surveyed have not found these to be emotional decisions, but rather objective calculations involving consultation with family and friends. But the operative question remains – What do you do when the best person for the job turns down what you think is a golden opportunity?

Finally, they look for the stimulation in work at all times. Those presently in their early forties were the first generation to experience shows like Sesame Street and the evolving world of entertainment in education. After having Big Bird teach them their A-B-Cs, they extrapolated that all learning should be fun. Upon entering the world of work, they demanded the same kind of stimulation. This resulted in dancing paperclips in word processing programs, Solitaire on every hard drive in the world, and the e-mailing of jokes, pictures and music clips 24/7/365.

This is not to say they don’t work hard. But why work hard without listening to music, surfing the Web and playing games all at the same time? After all, it’s all about the outcome and not the task, isn’t it? Those in their twenties and thirties are now taking all this to extremes due to their immersion in digital technology from birth.

As this generation assumes responsibility for leadership, they are sure to relax some of the traditional work rules, many of which were developed more than a half-century ago. Only time will tell whether these changes will enhance productivity and boost the bottom line.

But as you prepare them to take on in senior positions, it will be critical to understand their beliefs about the balance of these factors. The next decade will reveal a sea change in the way organisations are led as veteran contributors transition out of many management roles and this emerging cohort of leaders assumes those responsibilities. How well will your organisation embrace these young professionals and encourage their success?

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Headline image courtesy Abigail Keenan@unsplash.com

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