LEADING THE 21ST CENTURY WORKFORCE
3-PART SERIES ON THE PEOPLE, CactiveHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES FACING LEADERS
BY GUEST BLOGGER, KELLE CORVIN
Over the last few weeks, Dean has dived into the Leadership Tipping Point that the Covid-19 pandemic situation has created for leaders. No longer can a leader simply make decisions based on what is best for the “whole” but rather, they must factor in the impact their decision has on individual employees – never before have we been in an environment of this sort as leaders. While the tipping point may have been created by Covid-19, the elements and “push” factors have been in place for about a decade, or ever since Millennials were firmly established in the workforce. More on that later.
In this week’s blog, we will begin a 3-week look at what 21st Century leadership looks like and how it has been created. This is not just a straight discussion on generations, but rather a look at how those generations came to be and how they are impacting the 21st Century workplace and how leaders guide them. All of this has contributed to the tipping point we have seen with the Covid-19 virus.
Looking at this topic does involve a close look at each of the 4 main generations currently in the workforce and how their values, thinking style, and worldview are impacting today’s work environment. We will take a close look at how each generation was formed by these aspects and what how each generation brings unique qualities that both enhance and challenge the workplace as well as how leaders impact their people. This first blog post will be a general overview of the topic and generations in today’s workplace. Then, over the next 2 weeks, we will dive deep into each generation’s characteristics, what they bring to the workforce, and how best to recruit, train, and retain them. So, let’s get started!
Let’s begin by establishing in this week’s post what we mean when we say values. We know from the work of many generational theorists that each generation develops a common “Values Imprint”. This was brought to the foreground in the late 1970s and 1980s by Dr. Morris Massey of the University of Colorado. While he was not the first to notice, he was the first to turn it mainstream and help corporate America understand what they were seeing in terms of differences between their mature workers and the newbies coming into the workforce (mostly Boomers at that time).
Massey explained that human development goes through a series of values development phases: 0-7 years of age is dedicated to understanding what your family sees as right v wrong. You are typically focused on learning self-care and self-management and experiences it’s first “values” lock – what my family says is right/wrong.
In the next phase 8-15 years of age, a typical human child will begin to look outward for validation and the beginnings of making social connections with their peers (same age range) and other adults. They will also begin to notice and process family, community and world events that will have an impact on the second values lock period. It is during this timeframe that the “values” of a generation are formed.
Examples of each generation will be given in subsequent blog posts, but a specific one might be that Boomers (those who turned 10 years old during either the 1950s or the 1960s, would have had their values impacted by Rock and Roll, the rise of the middle class, the Vietnam War, the Summer of Love, and the Moonshot. The impact would have been I can do anything I want to do that I put my mind and effort behind and the government is often wrong and gets in the way of me pursuing what I want to do by making bad policy decisions that kill people. Now that’s a bit simplistic, but I think we can safely say that most Boomers (born between 1945 and 1960) are one of the more determined and ambitious generations in our current workforce. We will explore this more in next week’s blog post on Boomers.
Just as each generation has a “values” similarity, they also tend to view the world in one of two ways – either linearly or holistically. So, what does that mean exactly? Well let’s begin with what it is to be a linear thinker. Linear thinkers are those that prefer to compartmentalize their world. They view the world in separate parts or pieces. Home life is separate from work life. At work each aspect of their job may have connection points, but the linear thinker tends to work on one thing to completion before going to the next task. In other words, it’s a step-by-step progression that follows known cycles and rules where one step is completed before moving on to the next.
Contrast this with a holistic or non-linear thinker. A holistic thinker looks at all of the individual parts and sees the connections. Remember the old Sesame Street Song “One of these things is doing it’s own thing?” Well that certainly played well to the linear thinker, who would see the immediate “unfit” object, but to the non-linear thinker, they wouldn’t see 3 knives and 1 fork but rather 4 pieces of silverware. Holistic or non-linear thinkers don’t work in straight lines or even a sequential manner. Rather, they will draw conclusions or make connections on what seems like totally unrelated topics! As leaders, it’s critical to understand your preferred thinking style, but also that of each of your people AND that there is a general characteristic of thinking that develops among generations! We will see that as this series unfolds.
So, we come to the third area of impact on generations that is really a culmination of the previous two. One’s values and thinking style (as well as personality, motivators, etc.) will combine to create one’s worldview. You will also see general worldview characteristics among the different generations. So, what is a worldview? Well it is defined as one’s philosophy or conception of the world. Some social scientists would call this a paradigm that has been established based on your life experiences, values, and thinking style. Often, one’s paradigm can be upended or dramatically changed by what Dr. Massey called a SEE (Significant Emotional Event). This paradigm is usually established by the time most humans have reached upper adolescence or early adulthood (ages 16-23). Again, the influences of your family, your community, the world events that have occurred during the formative years of your life will all combine to create your worldview.
Generational theory is a constantly evolving body of social science. It is fascinating and goes back many decades and even centuries. Perhaps the defining book in the modern era that began to look at these generational patterns was the Strauss & Howe book called Generations that looked at the cycles of American history and the influence that generational characteristics had on it. They called them “turnings”. Their work sparked a new field of study in many universities that continues to look at each new generation coming into American society. Over the next two weeks, I will explore the current generations that are in, exiting, or entering the workplace in the 21st century and how each contributes to the success of organizations while offering challenges to current leaders. The four I will focus on will be Boomers (born 1945-1960); Xers (born 1961-1979); Millennials (born 1980-1994) and iGens (born 1995-2010) but I will group them into the more linear thinkers (Boomer and Xers) and the more holistic thinkers (Millennials and iGens). I will touch on each by exploring the events that likely shaped their worldviews as well as what they bring to the modern workplace and how each plays a critical role going forward in the 21st century especially following a major event such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
I hope you enjoy this series! Let me know your thoughts and experiences on this topic.