‚We can’t keep our bright young things‛. This is the common complaint of businesses around the world at the moment. Today’s new generation of employees and customers seem to flit around from company to company, with no sense of loyalty at all. The older generations, who grew up believing that you should ‚get a good job in a big company and stay there‛, and the Boomers who have spent most of their working careers ‚paying their dues‛ and working up the corporate ladder, often get quite upset about these youngsters coming through. Bridging this generation gap is critical to any company’s success in the 21st century.
Part of the problem is that people have not changed their worldview, even though the world itself has radically changed.
The old worldview was linked to the old employment contract. The old contract was simple: an employee came into an organisation and accepted the values of the company, bought into its vision and mission, and sold the company’s products to the company’s customers, using the company’s systems, vocabulary, methods and processes. In other words, the employees made themselves virtually unmarketable anywhere else, which wasn’t a problem since the company offered employment as long as they wanted it. The employees paid their dues, working like slaves for a few years in order to be fast tracked up the company structures. In return, the company guaranteed that there would be management positions available a few years from now.
But how many companies can offer such security these days? Even if they did offer it, would we believe them? Generation Xers, born in the 1970s and 80s, saw first hand what companies can do to employees when a downturn comes, or when new technology makes people redundant. They understand that the world today offers no guarantees � and they expect none from it. But they do wonder why the older generations seem to blame them for not having loyalty, when in fact, they’re simply responding to a new reality. If companies cannot offer security, why are they still asking for loyalty? If they cannot offer long-term commitment, why are they still asking for it?
Many companies have just given up, and sullenly accept that they can’t get more than 3 years out of their talented people. Yet, loyalty is still available. The trick is to purchase it with a different currency. Security is no longer on offer. If companies want loyalty, they’ll have to find something else to put on the table. This might include flexibility, freedom, fun, outputs-based remuneration (as opposed to simply paying someone for being there), access to mentors, immediate and honest feedback (as opposed to annual reviews with arbitrary and generic remarks about historic performance), access to technology, creativity, and much, much more.
Under the old contract, employees were not just loyal in exchange for security. They did more than that. They willingly gave up some of their freedom and flexibility, and expected to leave their creativity at home. Today’s talented young people just won’t do that. They won’t become ‚Organisation Man‛, and rabidly defend their freedom.
Probably the most important new currency on offer to a new generation of employees is ‚generic marketability‛ (another way of saying ‚freedom of choice‛). If you help your talented employees to develop skills beyond their job functions, and to be marketable in an ever changing environment, they will give loyalty in return. The paradoxical truth is that the more marketable and mobile your best employees feel, the more likely they are to stay with you. You have to help them develop skills beyond their current job functions and ensure they’re continually developing in new ways if you want them to stay.
This means helping them gain wide ranging experience, both in and outside your organisation. Read more about experience in the second half of this article at http://www.tomorrowtoday.biz/articles.
Part II – Experience Isn’t What It Used to Be – is now available at http://www.tomorrowtoday.biz/content/view/436/40.
Graeme Codrington is Head of Intellectual Capital and Chief Treasure Hunter of TomorrowToday.biz, a dynamic organisation that helps companies identify the mega trends that will impact the people connected to their business � employees, customers and partners. Graeme is a sought after international speaker, best-selling author and generational expert.

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