RSM South Africa

Leveraging the multi-generational workforce

If you take a quick look around your office today, you can probably spot as many as four different generations representing your business, collaborating side-by-side, holding client meetings, attending networking events, posting on social media and attending to all other business activities. The four generations, range from experienced and mature Baby Boomers, all the way down to fresh and young Generation Z.

This multi-generational characteristic of our workforce today is complex, intricate and challenging to manage. Any talent development and management strategy need to allow room for manoeuvre and adaptation to the multiple realities of these employee segments. Though it is highly simplistic to generalise on the similarities within each generation and pigeonhole human beings to their birth year, as employers we are facing a spectrum of different expectations.  

There is not a stage in the employment lifecycle that has remained untouched by this richness in the candidate market and employee demographics. From employer branding, to recruitment, all the way to off-boarding and all the stages in-between, a one-size approach does not fit any more. Tapping into one of the basic tenets in business – market and customer segmentation – any effective HR strategy today needs to embrace and service the multiple concurrent employee segments.  Baby Boomers might have different preferences to learning and development approaches than the Gen Ys, or the working styles of Gen X employees might differ from those of the Gen Zers. The first step is to accept that not one single management tactic will cut it for all employees. Trying to ignore this reality brings about perennial frustrations and feelings of being unheard or misunderstood at all levels of the organisation – from senior leadership to new joiners.

So, can you attract, develop and retain the talent necessary to continue competing and growing? It is a process of defining and re-hashing, a constant calibration and adaptation of practice, a journey with an onward orientation but with frequent validations. One of the not-so-secret ingredients is in fact imbuing a culture of ongoing real-time feedback. The term ‘feedback’ is being referred to in its widest sense. Formal, informal, structured, or unstructured, face-to-face, or through digital tools – substance and tempo are more important than form. The crux is in generating as many opportunities as possible for employees, managers and corporate leaders to share views and gain insight on what is working and the perceived areas of improvement. Experts in the field have named it as continuous performance management (as opposed to the conventional annual or bi-annual performance assessments): real-time consistent feedback that can be used to improve the navigation – of one’s self, the team and the organisation.

This is no mean feat. Sensitising all the levels of your organisation on the benefits that can be gained from having more frequent and meaningful check-ins takes energy. The individuals themselves must overcome the natural inertia and embrace open communication. Management has to make and dedicate the time whilst juggling multiple client engagements and reach ambitious key business performance indicators. Having the support of tools can ease the process – intelligent predictive digital assistance that prompts management and leaders to act through potentially relevant options by reading the pulse of the collective workforce and each and every one of the individuals making up the team. Analytical digital tools and dashboards that can summarily present the strategic people intelligence on the potential risk-of-talent-loss or the positive vibes that can be leveraged further. 

Once you have the feedback you need to act promptly. businesses are expected to demonstrate flexibility and the courage to let go of ‘how we do it around here’. Action will confirm to the employees that the feedback is valued. It means creating space and fertile fora where the differences in knowledge, experiences and ideas can influence company policies, processes, methodologies and service development.

We are indeed experiencing challenging times and there are probably even more interesting times ahead in the quest to attract and develop the future minds powering businesses. There is no resting on your laurels. Businesses need to continue striving for more diverse insights, adaptable leadership mechanisms and inclusive corporate cultures. 

Fabianne Ruggier

RSM Malta