The corporate ladder is disappearing

If you are like most Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, climbing the corporate ladder of success meant working long hours, keeping your head down, and patiently waiting your turn. You had confidence the “system” would reward your behavior years or decades down the road.

That’s how you expected the next generation of workforce to come into the company and behave. But things are changing. Millennials—with their hover parents, participation trophies, and instant gratification—simply don’t trust the “system” will take care of them in the long run. They point to all the examples in corporate America.

And you know what? They have a point. The traditional approach to career success, just like everything else, is being disrupted.

So what do you do? Lament every time a Millennial asks to work from home or to bring their dog to work with them? Nope! You have to adapt. Adapt or say goodbye. But if you begrudgingly hold your ground and say that the workplace is becoming a circus, you will end up like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey—CLOSED.

Want a sobering fact?

In the early 1960s, the average life span for a company on the S&P 500 Index was more than 50 years. Today the average is just 18 years. By 2025 the number will fall another 20 percent. That’s right, THREE OUT OF FOUR names will drop off the list within the next 15 years.

Now that you’re sober…

Can you guess the name of the only company still on the Index? It is GE. America’s greatest corporate survivor. Why has General Electric survived while all the others have not? The reality is a complex number of factors including the company’s recruiting process, the development of its people, its corporate culture to not get “stuck” to a single product set, its quality of product, and so on.

However, one central thread woven from the early days of GE to today is innovation. Have you seen their latest commercials? It’s a series where “Owen” is telling his family and friends he got a new job as a developer at GE. They all seem initially thrilled but appear disappointed when he explains he is not actually going to be working “on” a train or “in” a manufacturing facility but working “on trains” and “on manufacturing facilities,” making them work smarter. Then the commercials fade to their tag line: “The digital company. That’s also an industrial company.” Check out the commercial here

Technology companies represent half of the world’s 24 top brands. Even brands not traditionally considered “tech” (think Nike, Mc Donald’s, and GE) have become digital giants and use a foundation of technology to drive their product—pun intended for companies like BMW and Mercedes.

Gen Xers and Baby Boomers: You don’t get tech like Millennials get tech

Why is this transition to technology important to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers?

Because it’s no longer about adopting technology for a competitive advantage, it’s about developing a relationship with technology so your business survives the disruption of the digital revolution.

We are saying you must have a healthy relationship with I.T. to survive.

Sounds easy on the surface. The problem is that if you are making decisions as a leader in your company, there is a high probability that you did not grow up using technology the way Millennials—people born after 1978—do. That a relationship with I.T. is not very natural for you. That sometimes you just don’t “get” tech, and think it can be delegated.

Who cares if I don’t have a relationship with technology? I’ve got people who do that for me.

Herein lies the problem, the disconnect between company leaders and their relationship with I.T. Of course you have someone who handles that for you. However, I will detail the workforce trends and show why it’s vital for leaders today to get a better grip on their relationship with I.T. so you can better prepare your company for the future. Then, in my next installment, I will detail the things you need to know so your company can truly stand the test of time. Don’t miss the rest of the series: follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter to see new posts.

How can old-school executives manage a new-age workplace?

So how do you manage for the future?

A major trend in the workplace is increasing pressure to succeed. Employees are more high maintenance than ever. And your middle managers are getting squeezed from both sides… from you as their boss and from the people they manage.

To complicate things, there are approximately six generations in the workplace:

  • 1% is the Silent Generation (born before 1945)
  • 30% are Baby Boomers
    • Early Baby Boomers (born between ‘46-‘54=14%)
    • Late Baby Boomers (born between ‘55-‘64=16%)
  • 28% are Generation X (born ‘65-‘77)
  • 42% are Millennials
    • Early Millennials (born between ‘78-‘89=28%)
    • Late Millennials (born between ‘90-2000=14%)

And 8,000 to 10,000 people are turning 65 every day. This is called the Baby Boomer Bubble. By 2020, less than 20% of workers will be Baby Boomers. That’s a population decrease of 30% in three years. That population shift is going to usher in a massive issue with knowledge transfer and wisdom.

We’re facing a youth bubble, too. By 2020, second-wave Millennials will increase by 24%. This bubble is going to expose what is called a development investment paradox. The Millennials have tech skills, but they don’t have the soft skills of their retiring counterparts.

So what happens when you have Baby Boomers and Gen Xers managing Millennials? You get an “old school” style of management that is ineffective in the new workplace. In the book It’s Okay to be the Boss, it’s called an “under management epidemic.”

Disruption while climbing the corporate ladder
Climbing the corporate ladder makes sense to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers—but Millennials don’t expect to follow the same path.

Managers expect new employees will want to climb the corporate ladder like they did. The problem is, nobody trusts the system to take care of them long-term anymore. Selling a long-term career path to a Millennial is like selling a bridge. Only the suckers will buy it. Leaders must shift from a “five-year-plus tenure” approach to managing employees to “this week/next week/next month” thinking. Position recruiting around “here and now,” not long-term.

Millennials are the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”

How do you think Millennials answered this question: Are you loyal to your employer?

If you said “No,” you were right—and wrong. Their response is, “Of course I am… until I get a better offer.” This new type of employer-employee faithfulness is called “just in time loyalty.” It is a short term, transactional environment. In practice, people decide daily, over and over again, not to leave their company.

Since I don’t have a good relationship with technology, I need to adopt a new approach to management.

Here is the rub… Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are actually starting to act more like Millennials, not the other way around.

The authority relationship as a boss is increasingly harder to maintain. Leaders must adopt a highly engaged coaching style. Leadership must incorporate guidance, direction, leadership, and empowerment.

Fairness is not needed. Treat superstars like superstars and poor performers like poor performers. The superstars will leave if you don’t.

Also, don’t be the jerk boss. Instead, commit to regular coaching dialog. Because the best way to lose employees is with a weak, hands-off, sink-or-swim management style.

The career path to success is changing and if you don’t adapt, adjust, and align your management style, your job will likely be the next casualty of digital disruption.

Don’t miss the rest of the series: follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter to see new posts.

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