Today’s workplace should look more like a jazz band (yes, that’s a pic of me) rather than a Dilbert-style bureaucracy that looks more like a dysfunctional marching band. As Dilbert pointed out (in the best selling management book of all time) our approach to talent management is deeply flawed.
But meaningful change is beginning to happen. The digital revolution is enabling new models of collaboration that lead to better innovation and higher performance. A new generation of young workers (The Millennials or The Net Generation as I’ve called them) is entering the workforce and bringing a new culture. And the new business environment demands something better. This requires a rethinking of talent management.
The current model of talent management is recruit, train, manage, retain and evaluate the performance of employees. In the future smart companies won’t do any of this. Work will look more like a jazz ensemble where hierarchy is replaced by creativity, sense-and-respond, peer-to-peer, collaboration, empowerment and improvisation.
1. Don’t Recruit: Initiate Relationships and Engage The Best Talent.
In the old model of human resources, potential new hires were solicited using one-way broadcast advertising methods, such as newspaper classified ads. Today advertising to attract young people is a waste of time and money. Companies can use social media to influence this generation about their company and get to know them.
Old-style job interviews were much like interrogations in which potential employees were grilled on their strengths and weaknesses, knowledge and skills, sometimes being asked to perform tests that are terrible predictors of effectiveness. This approach should be completely revised. Employers who seek to identify, attract, and hire the best talent should see the process as a dialogue.
And starting early, even in high school, companies can use challenges, projects, part-time jobs, internships, summer employment, and the like to get to know the best and brightest. When it’s time to hire them there is no “recruiting” to be done, as you have already engaged the people who you want. It’s simply a boundary change, where you bring your collaborator inside the boundaries of your firm.
2. Don’t Train: Create Work-Learning Environments.
Working and learning in the knowledge economy are basically the same thing. What are you doing right now reading this book? Working or learning?
So rather than sending off employees to separate training and educational activities, why not use the new media to increase the learning component of their work? Rather than training them, engage them in rich working-learning environments for life-long learning.
At my company our “training” strategy is three words: “Everyone must blog.” In doing so everyone learns how to research, write well, defend his or her ideas, and collaborate and engage with the world.
The Net Generation in particular will respond well if mentored and coached to contribute to corporate policies, strategy, and business performance. Thus, employers must use creativity and flexibility when organizing the first few months of work to expose the new employees to various leaders, work situations, and work content. Greater transparency, exposure to, and interactivity with, the broader organization during this initiation phase will lead to a win-win outcome. Companies that make the effort will benefit from less turnover, shorter ramp-up speeds, higher levels of engagement, and earlier and greater returns on their investments in employees.
How could your company increase the learning component of work?
3. Don’t Manage: Collaborate.
The Dilbertian enterprise is divided into the governors and the governed. At the top is the supreme governor and at the bottom the permanently governed. In between are those that alternate. These bureaucracies are slow. Employees are supervised and isolated in silos where knowledge is not shared.
Increasingly traditional approaches to supervision and management are not effective. Good managers build teams and engage employees through distributing authority, power, and accountability. A growing number of firms are decentralizing their decision-making function, communicating in a peer-to-peer fashion, and embracing new technologies that empower employees to communicate easily and openly with people inside and outside the firm. In doing so, they are creating a new corporate meritocracy that is sweeping away the hierarchical silos in its path and connecting internal teams to a wealth of external networks.
Collaboration is a two-way street. Work styles, workflow models, workday and workplace parameters, career paths, and professional development offerings should be examined and potentially retooled by organizations to maximize fit with the generational mix of employees.
How could your company move from a supervision model to one of true collaboration?
4. Don’t Retain: Evolve Lasting Relationships.
In today’s volatile work environment you can’t retain talent like you retain fluids.
Talent doesn’t need to be inside the boundaries of your enterprise. The Internet drops transaction and collaboration costs and companies can find uniquely qualified minds to create value anywhere. This opens a new world of relationships between talent and firms. Using the analogy of the university’s alumni network, companies should think of employees as a web of contacts. They should be perceived as networks, with a wealth of knowledge about the company’s inner workings, which possess the opportunity to add great value, even after leaving the company. Social networking, communities of practice, and other Web platforms allow employees and ex-employees alike to exchange resources and disseminate information. Net-Generation employees will embrace this kind of thinking as it comes naturally to them, having grown up on online communities such as Facebook.
Some of my best talent is not inside the boundaries of my company. How could your company become a network rather than a fortress for talent?
5. Don’t Do Annual Reviews: Improve Performance Real-time
If you’re a manager, you may have noticed that your twenty-something employees need plenty of feedback. It’s part of their mind-set, and is honed by a lifetime of immersion in interactive digital technologies. This has had a profound effect on the Net Generation’s mental habits and their way of doing things. They’ve grown up to expect two-way conversation, not lectures from a parent, teacher, or employer. They’re used to constant and quick feedback from friends about everything—their homework, a new gadget, and now, their job.
The annual performance appraisal, in which the boss tells the underling how he or she rates against corporate objectives, makes little sense for young employees. It’s often a one-way “appraisal”—boss to employee—that usually downplays the employee’s wishes and desires. It happens once a year—long after the performance took place. It rewards or punishes individual performance—not the collaboration that the new workforce treasures. It’s more about compensation and promotions than about improving performance.
So how do you give feedback to a generation that has an insatiable desire for it? How do you do it in a way that makes sense to people under 30?
There are new software packages, such as Work.com, that offer tools to enable real-time feedback. Instead of waiting an entire year to find out what managers think of them, employees can send out a quick (50 words or less) question to people they trust—a manager, a co-worker sitting in the meeting, even a client, or a supplier. Baby Boomers like me still wonder whether software like this will make our e-mail inboxes overflow with requests for “advice.” But I think managers will stop complaining once they see that employees are using this information to quickly improve their performance.