A while ago I had the privilege to join the inaugural and very inspiring “insights” event of Duke Corporate Education in Munich.
Listening to Sudhanshu Palsule’s key note talk on “Rehumanising Leadership” one quoted fact stayed firmly in my mind: “Looking at the world population people aged 50+ make up 4%. People under 30 years of age make up 55%.”
Yes, you read correctly: People over 50 make up 4% of the global workforce. People under 30 make up 55%. I was somewhat taken aback. What does this mean for the cross-generational workforce?
Looking at how our society operates and in particular with the anticipated demographic developments in Germany, it is these 4% “governing” over the other 55%.
But not only that. Both groups of people are hugely different in their mindset not least due to the fast-moving technological developments we see everywhere. To name but a few of those differences …
- One finds comfort in clear structures signified through organisational hierarchies.
- The other thrives on sharing – no matter whether we are talking about information, technologies or emotions.
- One seems bound by the principle of loyalty towards their employer and towards their own career.
- The other realises that there is no such thing as certainty and that flexibility is the best way to survive.
- One seeks to work with autonomy.
- The other needs constant re-affirmation and feedback.
So, what does this mean for our organisations? How should they be structured? How should a cross-generational workforce work together in a way that is collaborative and output-focussed with a view to delivering the best possible result?
Key challenge: Lack of preparation
To find the answers to these questions poses our biggest challenge yet. They scrutinise the very way we understand the world. Our version of the world. Not necessarily the reality.
And it pains to admit that we do not have many answers to this cross-generational challenge at this stage.
In fact, according to the ORC International “60% of UK companies see four generations working together under one roof as difficulty. Only 43% feel well prepared.” Nobody hastes to admit that even feeling “well prepared” at this stage is too late. We are in the middle of a shift in society, which sees multigenerational teams become a reality in daily working life. A world in which cross-generational teams need to learn to work together productively and with a joint purpose.
Starting point: Collaborative mindset
This will be a long journey. It starts with a collaborative mindset. Where the experienced share their life lessons and where age does not prevent the right people from doing the work they feel passionate about. Where we constructively discuss the role of leadership and how our leaders can best serve their organisations without leaving behind a path of destruction. Where we work together, cross-generations, in order to find new organisational models that help us to build successful businesses.
This will be a long journey. So let’s be German about this:
How do you eat an elephant?