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Word to the Ys’

In the UK employment levels remain high but productivity levels have been declining. So, now more than ever we need to ensure that our younger generations are able to realise their talent and that we harness their strengths. Jo Ouston, Founder and Director of Jo Ouston & Co.

The rising generations lack reverence for politics and the institutions and organisations that presided over the economic crisis. The British Social Attitudes survey indicates that they have lower expectations of Government and the welfare state, particularly as they do not expect to benefit from them in the same way as earlier generations. They are competitive and individualistic, with an increasing propensity to set up their own businesses. Performance management often has a negative ring to it with connotations of coercion – more stick than carrot, more ‘Theory X’ than ‘Theory Y’. But it should be seen as a process for aligning individual and organisational goals, helping people to do a good job. In 2001, Alan Mumford identified the importance of learning opportunities for development.

What this implies changes over time but the essentials are planning. with goals and objectives to set expectations – monitoring of progress, feedback and identification of further opportunities and development needs. Youthful energy and potential is a vital resource that organisations need to attract and develop. Today’s sparky, fun-loving generation need to become the shining stars of the organisation in the future. However, they still need to acquire the qualifications, knowledge, experience and expertise needed for credibility in their sector of industry or organisational domain. Performance Management will fail if motivations and aspirations aren’t correctly understood. To get someone to where you want them to be, you have to go to where they are first and then bring them with you.

The approach to managing the performance of Generation Y (those up to their mid 30s) and in particular, Generation Z (those up to their mid 20s) will be quite different from how we deal with older employees. They may be overconfident in their abilities and managing that without bruising requires skill and patience. According to PwC staff research, key drivers for this ‘Millennial’ generation are work/life balance and the opportunity to work more flexibly – attractive to other generations too. Traditional working patterns are a discouragement to staff retention and many would trade pay for flexibility. Where earlier generations had a more transactional approach to work, including pay satisfaction and career advancement, younger generations expect more. In particular, a more cohesive, team-oriented culture with greater support and appreciation. Development opportunities are a key motivation.

Generation Ys and Zs have mostly grown up with the technology of instant access, social networks and computer gaming. A down side is that the instant results, success and satisfaction in these ‘virtual’ worlds are not so easily matched by the physical reality. They may give a false sense of capability – mastery of Wii tennis is not the full Andy Murray – and have unseen consequences. However, the PwC research indicates that, while technology is taken as given and they expect to have access to the best systems and tools, what the Millenials really value is face to face communication. They don’t want to be passive recipients; they seek openness, connection, an interactive approach and personal engagement in their career development. Other researchers in this field such as Dr Graeme Codrington emphasise that Generation Y and Zs are motivated by stories, causes, ideas and exploration – a quest. Many will come to organisations as a first job – recruited primarily for their potential rather than an established track record. It is really not possible to know at the outset exactly where they will want their career to go or where their capabilities may lead. Most will specialise in time but all need to prove that they can perform in a broader range of capabilities. Experience gained through learning opportunities such as project work, shadowing, secondments, working with diverse teams or external consultants and making presentations can all help when appraised to establish performance. Performance management may of course require the stick from time to time, but for these generations starting out it is more about the carrot. Tapping into the thirst to know the story and rationale behind why things matter to the organisation and why they should matter to the individual is key to motivation and developing performance.

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