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Wake up call for boomer bosses

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Baby Boomer business leaders must change their approach to strategy if they are to succeed in the boardroom and lead the next generation of managers more effectively. Research into strategy and planning, “The EDGE Report”, commissioned by Cognosis, sheds fresh light on why ‘strategy’ must change, becoming far more participative and far less exclusive to the top team.

In the last two decades managers’ expectations have been transformed by a rich mix of technological, social, cultural and economic change.  Organisations have become more global, leaner, flatter, less hierarchic, and more diverse. Despite this, most companies’ approach to strategy has changed very little since the 1980s. Strategy is still most often the exclusive preserve of the top team.  

Cognosis questioned 2500 top executives, senior managers and middle managers to understand what they thought and felt about strategy.  The research focused on a largely unexplored area, the role of emotion in strategy.  The EDGE findings are a wake-up call for business leaders because they show strategy badly out of synch with the way modern managers think.  

EDGE reveals that executives, senior and middle managers all agree that strategy is important. But it also shows that for the new generation of business leaders, Generation X, it is not enough for a strategy to be logically and practically ‘right’, they want strategies that engage and excite as well. The EDGE research revealed that 75% of managers are not excited by their strategy and less than 10% believe strongly in it; only eight per cent feel a personal stake in their success.  

Gen X managers want more involvement in creating the strategies they are expected to deliver.  Only a third of them think their leaders are strategically effective, less than 25% feel sufficiently involved in the strategy process and only 20% say their views are properly listened to. This fuels a ‘strategy-performance gap’, with 90% of strategies failing; 70% at execution.  

Baby Boomers currently occupy most of business’ top jobs. The generation born between 1946 -1963, the Boomers challenged authority in their teens and early adulthood, and pushed the boundaries of individualism in the 60s and 70s.  Now, as their business careers peak and their influence wanes, Boomers are becoming increasingly conservative.  They are not eager to relinquish power.  

Generation X is different.  Mostly middle and senior managers in their 30s and 40s, Generation X is now starting to appear in the boardroom.  In some cases – e.g. Andy Hornby of HBOS and Next’s Simon Wolfson – they have actually overtaken Boomers to lead the board.  Generation X believes that strategy-making should be far more inclusive, more challenging, more collaborative and more creative than their Boomer predecessors. 

Richard Brown, managing partner of Cognosis, said: “Gen X-ers are the ‘glue’ of strategy – it’s up to them to translate Boomer strategies into effective action. They’ll do this if they feel properly involved in creating the strategy in the first place. Our research showed they don’t feel engaged – they aren’t properly involved and they don’t feel they have a personal stake in their organisation’s strategy or its success.  They understand it rationally, but emotionally it leaves them cold.  As a result, they’re not strongly motivated to make the strategy happen.”  

The EDGE research shows that Generation X wants businesses to be far more creative and collaborative.  They buy-in to strategies they have helped create.

However, the concern for business does not stop with Generation X.  Generation Y is waiting in the wings.  Born 1980-1995, Generation Y is thought by many to be ‘disruptive’ and ‘spoilt’, used to rising affluence, freedom and flexibility. 

“Gen Y is in a hurry – it expects fast career progress, and it expects to be involved, motivated and rewarded well.  It will demand even more ‘voice’ in strategy than Gen X.  Fortunately for the Boomers, managing Gen Y will be Gen X’s challenge, not theirs,” concluded Brown.


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