By Ricky Nowak, leadership expert and 2015 ALPMA Summit speakerThe 2015 Intergenerational Report by the Australian Government begins by discussing what it describes as “the three long run drivers of economic growth in Australia – population, workforce participation and productivity.” Broadly speaking these forecasts of the future suggest “we need to better position ourselves now to meet expanding demand and obligations, and make Australia a more attractive place to invest and prosper in.”
So how do we do that?Well, I’m neither an economist nor a politician – certainly not a fortune teller, but what I do know is that it is as important to be as good a historian as it is to be a futurist and that’s the first thing we need to do get right. So let’s take a leadership perspective on the 2015 Intergenerational Report.
At the outset, it needs to be understood that there will be as many as five generations working side by side in our workplaces in the coming decades. That immediately creates a leadership challenge because each generation will have something different to contribute, as well as having different needs in terms of management, leadership and learning:
- First: older Australians in the workforce will need to be encouraged to share their company intelligence, document their knowledge and mentor others at all levels of the organisation. Easy? No.
- Next, senior leaders will need to create a culture in which staff can have autonomy and purpose in their work. To varying extents, every generation needs to understand they are part of the bigger picture. Everyone needs to have a reason to connect with others, including those older and younger, and so build their company ‘tribes’. Simple? Not really.
- Then, management need to provide the conditions for entrepreneurship and innovation to coexist so that creatives can create and ‘analyticals’ can analyse – irrespective of age, gender, department, job or hierarchy. Can it be done? Only if people want to.
- Now, leadership needs to allow young talent to experiment and create jobs and opportunities that don’t currently exist – they need the freedom to tap into the world of possibility. Sounds idealistic? Not if approached properly.
These are just four of the numerous challenges facing leaders in this era of multigenerational management. It won’t always be easy to get people on board with them – particularly across the generations. Which is why it’s critical to make clear the reasons, motivations and opportunities behind pursuing them, creating momentum for the shift needed in your organisation and its people. It’s about getting the foundations right for the altered future ahead. Oh, and by the way, also preparing the business for the generation who is currently under 18 and may be considering a career in your workplace. Really? Yes, really.
So how do we do that?In the work we do, we’ve created five important steps that have been designed to work both within and between the generations:
- Ask each generation to conduct their own KASH Audit – a reckoning of their combined Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills and Habits within a given time frame. This can be conducted online, in workshops or facilitated in a mini-forum style either through technology or discussion or both. The results can then be calibrated in a white paper, report, summary or spreadsheet and the information shared across the company. (It’s important to note that this audit needs to be regularly updated as new employees come on board and people learn new skills.)
- Have each employee familiarise themselves with the findings of these audits – for all generations, not just their own. In this way they can access different skills to complement current projects; help bring new ideas to complex challenges they may not be able to currently solve; and inject new ways of thinking, fresh ideas and skills across the organisation. Some companies are now making it mandatory for, say, project leaders to find and converse with people in their organisation who (loosely) belong to different generations. This builds familiarity and comfort with different ways of seeing the world.
- Hold special events to showcase people’s skills and talents so they can meet and build better commercial and business relationships. This will reveal opportunities for enhancing the business rather than simply working with the predetermined.
- Have members of each generation spend time working across different teams to learn how they are operating, thinking and responding. They can do this by spending time ‘on the job’, on site in client meetings, or with clients or customers – all the time recognising how different perspectives are more important than different generations.
- Use initiatives like ‘Reverse Mentoring’, in which Multigenerational Project Teams are carefully selected using data extracted from the KASH audit. These high performance teams are made up of people with complementary social, interpersonal and technical skills
We find that this approach works best when it is coordinated by an overall ‘multigenerational champion’ working a team of ‘generational champions’ – one from each team. This multigenerational champion can be an experienced manager or Lawyer or it can be an external resource with the relevant skills and experience. Without exception it also brings together a compliment of Legal Support Staff, Paralegals, Partners, Senior Associates, junior lawyers, Librarians, HR. to share perspectives and values.
Working with multiple generations will be a given in the coming years, as will the need to change constantly as the world also changes. The best leaders will see this as an opportunity rather than a problem, and the potential to realise the opportunity will come from taking a thoughtful, coordinated approach so law firms can more broadly connect and communicate with their clients.
About our Guest Blogger
With her theatrical and teaching background, Ricky helps her audiences connect and engage with real situations and conversations from the Boardroom to the Meeting Room so communication is clear and outcomes are achievable.