Bring on the Boomers!

Nothing stays the same for long, that’s for sure. Of course, had we been living in the beginning of the 20th century rather than the beginning of the 21st century, we’d have faced dramatic change too: the agrarian economy gave way to the industrial economy; electricity transformed peoples’ lives; railways brought the cities and the countryside closer together, and the telephone revolutionised communication.

Yet, the rate of change seems to be faster and deeper today than even, say, 40 years ago. Perhaps the biggest change for older workers, and the most challenging, is in communication and information technology. Many Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964, as you probably know), having entered the workforce before the advent of computers, were aghast at having to learn even the basics and although most coped, some remain ‘technologically challenged’.

But is that a big deal? Why not assign the right duties to the right people, which you should be doing anyway? Younger employees generally thrive on technology while many older employees are more comfortable using other skill sets. No big deal. When you need a mature employee (there, that sounds better than older employee, doesn’t it?!) training and practice will save the day. Everyone can learn when they want to, whatever their age.

As a matter of fact, mature people learn just as quickly as immature people (oh, that sounds bad doesn’t it?!) Strike that. Mature people learn as quickly as younger people and what’s more, there is a lot of research evidence suggesting that once the oldies have acquired a skill, they can apply it more effectively. This is partly due to their experience and partly to their brains: inductive reasoning (moving from the specific to the general) and spatial orientation (awareness of the space around you and where your body is in relation to it) peak at around 50 years of age and verbal abilities and verbal memory peak at around 60 years.

Baby Boomers tend to be easier to manage, too, because they don’t expect as much from their employers and their managers and do many younger workers. They’ve been conditioned into accepting ‘mushroom management’ (let’s just say being treated more like cogs in a wheel than real live people), so many will still put up with a lot more expletive deleted than younger people are willing to. Boomers are also likely to stay in the job longer if for no other reason than they know it’s harder for them to find jobs than the 20- and 30-somethings.

In shying away from mature workers, organisations are missing out on the benefits of their experience, their accumulated common sense and their ability to think problems through and follow up on their solutions to make sure they’re working. They’re also missing out on older workers’ ability to tap into all the networks and relationships they’ve built up over the years, their willingness to not move on to greener pastures and their willingness to put up with–but let’s not go there again.

It doesn’t matter, though, because just around the corner, organisations won’t be able to afford the luxury of ignoring the older talent pool. There simply aren’t enough younger workers entering the workforce to replace the retiring Boomers. Then everyone will just have to learn to work together. Goodness, what a thought!


Do you give team members enough feedback?

When people join an organisation or transfer to a new team, the ‘settling in’ process includes figuring out where and how they fit in. This is called ‘calibration’. The answer is probably going to be different to a person’s place in their last team. That’s why role clarity and plenty of feedback are extremely important to helping people make smooth transitions. (Chapters 11 and 24 of the text have more information on this.)

Then there are team members who are overly confident about their abilities and knowledge. Known as ‘unskilled and unaware’, their high opinions of their abilities give them the least incentive to learn; they ‘don’t know what they don’t know’, to coin a phrase.

According to research, the least skilled and aware people are the last to work out they need some help. Without feedback and clear measuring posts to calibrate themselves against, they remain blissfully unaware of their performance weaknesses, both relative to others and in absolute terms. Without feedback and measures of success, your unskilled and unaware employees will never realise where they really fit in and what they need to learn to become contributing members of the team.

But just pointing out a person’s weaknesses isn’t’ the answer. You need to help them understand their limitations in a way that indicates your faith they can learn new skills and in a way that motivates them to learn those skills.

Continuous information about peoples’ performance is a driver of success in every enterprise and all the more important with recruits, poor performers and unrealistically and overly confident performers.

Discussion questions

How well do you provide clear success measures and feedback to your team members? What about you? Are you aware of your own weaknesses and are you taking steps to plug the gaps? If not, you might fit into the unskilled and unaware category yourself! How would you compare and contrast over-confidence with the ‘impostor syndrome’ discussed on page 144 of the text?

Men need not apply

GoAir, a budget airline based in New Delhi has decided that from now on, it will hire only female cabin crew. The decision is purely financial: females, they say, weigh less than men and carrying less weight on planes chews up less fuel, reducing the airline’s operating costs. Assuming female attendants weigh an average 20 kg less than their male counterparts, this means an annual savings of 30 million rupees, or A$5.3 million.

Other measures to lighten aircraft and improve fuel efficiency include reducing the amount of water carried on board, using only one engine to taxi, and … wait for it … producing a smaller inflight magazine.

‘The rupee’s fall has hurt the industry badly. All major expenses — aircraft leasing, spare parts and fuel costs — are linked to the dollar. We are looking at every possible way of cost-cutting to remain profitable.’

said Giorgio De Roni, GoAir’s chief executive.

What’s wrong with this picture? For one thing, it seems to me that just as some women are taller than some men, some women weigh more than some men. Is GoAir going to hire overweight female cabin crew? So why not have a weight limit? Or would that discriminate against overweight people — not ok — while discriminating against men is ok?

For another thing, if India is similar to the rest of the world in respect to wages, female cabin crew may be paid less than male cabin crew. That might save GoAir even more money than the reduced fuel burn. Hmmmm…

Discussion questions

What do you think? Is there a good enough business case for hiring only women cabin crew? But let’s get serious: reducing operating costs is important in most organisations. So what could you (legally) do to tweak your operations to save money?

Hire for Personality

In a Harvard Business Review video, Robert Chavez, CEO of Hermes US explains why it’s important to hire for personality. You can teach skills but you can’t teach people how to smile, he says.

Discussion questions

Do you agree with Robert Chavez that hiring for attitude, values and personality is more important than existing skills and experience? Would you hire someone who failed to switch off their mobile during an interview? To some people (me included) that would be a turn-off!

The power of body language

In this video social scientist, Amy Cuddy, talks about her interesting theory that body language doesn’t just reflect our character and feelings, but it just might actually shape them.

Questions for discussion

What do you think about this theory? How might Amy’s ‘power pose’ exercise help in management situations?

Perks for retention, perks for productivity

We’ve all heard about the legendary Google perks – free gourmet food, free Wi-Fi-enabled coaches shuttling workers to the office, engineers spending 20 % of their work time on Google-related projects of their choice (which led to Gmail, among other innovations), not to mention on-site haircuts and dry cleaning and taking your pet to work. That sets the standard, at least for Silicon Valley.

But lest you think these perks are solely for the benefit of employees, think again. The company benefits, too. Keeping good employees gets harder every day because of the shrinking, greying workforce. The best way to keep good employees is to engage them with good jobs and be a company they’re proud to work for, and to chain them with gold handcuffs in the form of great perks and working conditions, and high salaries.

When companies get it right, great perks can increase productivity, too. The free meals at Google, for instance, don’t just provide food for connoisseurs. They also provide carefully contrived opportunities, or ‘manufactured moments of serendipity’, as Google calls them, where a chance conversation in the food queue might spark a great idea. Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of people operations, says that less than three minutes queuing provides too few serendipitous moments and more than 10 minutes provides too many. That’s the real reason Google measures its lunch queues.

Source: ‘Business Practices: The Perks of the Trade’, Bethany McLean, Vanity Fair, October 2012.

What does your organisation do to keep good employees? What do you personally do to keep your best team members? How do you provide ‘serendipitous moments’ to help your team members bond and spark good ideas?

Managing is good for your brain

The next time you think your brain hurts from studying, don’t worry about it. It turns out that the longer you are a manager, the larger your hippocampus becomes and the better it works. (The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory, so that’s a good thing.)

Researchers led by Michael Valenzuela of the University of New South Wales School of Psychiatry’s Regenerative Neuroscience Group found that managing other people protects your memory and ability to learn well into old age. They found that the hippocampus shrunk much less in the brains of people who had challenging management careers. They speculated that the unique mental demands of managing people require continuous problem solving, short-term memory and a lot of emotional intelligence.

The brain-enhancing effect of managing others was particularly strong in people who supervised more than 10 people.

So if you want a healthy brain and to ward off neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers, keep studying to become a great manager.

See the UNSW article here