We talk about the challenges of multigenerational workforce today – baby boomers, Millennials, as well as the next generation who are set to join the workforce in 2022. But the pertinent question to ask is, are we really seeing a multigenerational workforce for the first time? Every decade, we have had workforce which comprise not only fresh graduates but also senior leaders. But why is so much being spoken about this now? There are two reasons behind this. First, a lot research being written started hitting people’s screens only a decade or two ago. Second, the generational behaviours, and preferences have become starker. The social and digital divide have also added to the chasm. These are the reasons why we need to address this issue and be cognizant about the generations.
I have been fortunate enough to have worked in top-notch companies globally. I moved back to India two years back and joined Sun Pharma to build a brand with multigenerational leaders. The real difference that I have observed over the years, stems from behaviour. For instance, I have six colleagues here today, three of whom are from Gen X and Y and three millennials. The older ones arrived half an hour back, had their refreshments, and found themselves seats at the front, while the baby boomers came 5 minutes before the session, had a sandwich and still managed to find decent seats. This makes me believe that we should not value judge or question someone’s commitment. So be cognizant of generations but do not generalize.
There was a recent Deloitte research which found that surprisingly millennials are not good on social media. They may well be on social media but that does not mean they understand digital technology. Just being present on FB doesnt mean understanding the digital tech. GenY and GenZ are more tech-savvy. On a relative basis, folks from Gen X and Y have a better grasp of digital technology. So we need to have this context for developing a multigenerational workforce.
In my stints across the world, I have learnt that three things are common across nations and cultures. First, when it comes to generational divide, the behaviours, and the needs are common. Second, irrespective of generations, everyone loves their country and culture. Third, most people are not aware that they are being evaluated, assessed, discussed from a generational lens.
What is the need of multigenerational needs of society? I heard a debate on Indian television a few years ago that a 67-year old was being described as a young leader. He was defined as a younger leader since the other person was 83. So there’s always a context, and one needs to define youth in the context. It’s wrong to say one is old on the basis of age.
At the organization-level, HR leaders are grappling with the challenge of accepting and dealing with multi-generational leadership. It’s a real issue which needs to be addressed. Many organizations don’t know how to deal with this. What ends up happening is that both tenured and young people are being discriminated against.
You are discriminating the tenured people and you are discriminating people who are young. There was a debate over the appointment of a 29-year old as the CFO, of Kraft. If you dig deep, you will realise that the person appointed was merely a partner with 3G, who was transferred to take charge as CFO on a deal that he worked on. However, this is a significant deal as all young, aspiring and ambitious professionals, will be compared to this person as a benchmark of success. If this person fails, will it mean that the inference of young folks being incapable is true? Or vice versa, if he succeeds, will it mean that only the young should be entrusted with responsibilities? This is how leadership decisions are being made inside boardrooms. There’s the added challenge of boardroom decision-making team not having enough diversity with very little youth representation.
There’s also now a deeper and stronger divide among industries with sectors being labelled as old economy, new age, government jobs, etc with firm beliefs that each sector requires a specific skill set. We need to dismantle this approach as well. Leadership development should not be a program, it has to be nurtured and built as a culture. A carpet bombing approach with a defined training program will not work.
One must develop and create leadership at all levels, and not just at the top of the pyramid. Leaders in the middle have the maximum impact. So one really needs to define leadership in a company and in one’s mind. My biggest privilege has been to develop leaders. Leadership development requires commitment from both sides, the mentor and the mentee. Finally, don't take a socialist approach to leadership development. Rather, take a disproportionately skewed approach to foster meritocracy.
To conclude, we need to develop everyone. Leaders come from everywhere in the pyramid. One needs key expertise to differentiate in the approach on developing Millennials versus the ones in GenX and Y.
(This article is curated from the session ‘Developing Leadership in Multigenerational Workforce’ by Yashwant Mahadik, Global CHRO at Sun Pharma at the People Matters L&D League Annual Conference 2017)