Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Winning the war for digital talent

According to a year-long study conducted by McKinsey & Co., the most important corporate resource over the next 20 years will be talent. It's also the resource in shortest supply. Are you ready to fight for your fair share?

In 1997, McKinsey & Co. coined the phrase "The War for Talent." It expressed the need for organizations to review their employee value proposition (EVP) and ask themselves, "What is going to make a talented person want to work here?" This question still holds true today, almost a decade later. The difference is, today talent has gone digital.

We have managed talent from the Baby Boomer generation, and even survived the Generation Xers. How different will it be to manage the new breed of talent, the Generation Yers or Millennials?

For this generation, digital is a way of life. So what does this mean for talent management? At Ogilvy, we have found our talent management principles shouldn't change just because the media does. We may just have to execute the principles differently, and give some consideration to this generation's way of thinking, living and working.

The digital generation entering our workforce has different skills, motivations, expectations and ways of working than previous generations. Unless current leaders recognize and embrace these differences, they will be faced with a cultural divide in the organization – different generations, working side by side with little understanding of how the other is thinking or operating.
The war for talent can be won only by bridging the generation gap through a better understanding and appreciation of Gen Y employees.

As a business leader, what do you need to know about this generation, and the next one following behind it? And do you need to revisit your employee value proposition to ensure that the talented Gen Yers want to work for you?

Generation Y has often been referred to in the press as the "Gamer Generation" because most Gen Yers grew up with interactive gaming. Instead of being wary of this generation, we should embrace it, as it brings a new and exciting approach to the workplace. Gen Y employees and managers will be more diverse than those today, as they approach their work in a way very different from that of other generations.

This generation has a much higher interest in achieving a healthy work/life balance. Gen Yers are used to working in an environment that puts no restrictions on them. They can be physically dispersed but connected to colleagues, clients or a network by technology, making the need to be restrained by the office environment almost obsolete. They need to have flexibility in how and where they work.

We are also finding new entrants into the workforce looking for the opportunity to work globally, either by relocating within the network or by being given the chance to work on a global client. This generation has a better understanding of different cultures and market pressures, as internet chat rooms and the ability to search the web break down the barriers that used to stand in the way of globalization. Gen Yers see a world full of possibilities. They no longer have to wonder what a career in another market would be like – they can gather that information more readily, opening up their minds to the many opportunities and possible applications.
When your new-generation employees look for constant feedback and seek praise, it is not because they are needy or attention-seeking, it is because this is what they have become accustomed to. They received a lot more attention from parents and teachers than their counterparts did in the 1970s, and they were told they could achieve anything they put their minds to. This is their belief, and they will expect to get there a lot more quickly than you or I may have done.

They also have a need for instant feedback. In my years as a human resources professional, I have always encouraged managers to give timely feedback; don't wait until the next appraisal to give someone developmental advice, give it in the moment so that it is relevant. This holds true more today than ever. In a world where texting and instant messaging are the norm, why should this generation wait to hear how they are doing? It's simply not what they are used to or expect. They also find out pretty quickly if they pass or fail while they are gaming, so they can accept developmental feedback and are ready to look for a different approach to the task if at first they have been unsuccessful.

Coaching should play a large part in the growth of any generation. This one especially needs empowerment; Gen Yers need to learn fast, and they need to feel that they are a part of the organization's growth. They have the digital talent, but maybe not the leadership skills, and, to move quickly through the organization, they need guidance, advice and mentorship. This guidance needs to focus on each one as an individual, and not with the more traditional "sheep dip" approach to training and development. Gen Yers need to feel like individuals, and to know they are being treated and valued as such. If treated like individuals with the opportunity to grow and manage their careers, it is unlikely they will leave the organization to seek promotion, because they will want to grow within one company.

Gamers have the ability to multitask. They can be focusing on shooting the enemy, while collecting bonus lives from a cave in the corner. Therefore, expecting your employees to focus on and be motivated by one task is unrealistic. To keep this group motivated, you need to set them a real challenge; they need to know what is expected of them and how they will be measured, in order to gain personal satisfaction and fulfillment. They will also want many tasks so as to ensure they do not become bored.

Problems do not faze this group. When faced with a challenge or problem, they are more likely to think outside the box, show tremendous resilience and believe that nothing is impossible. These are great skills and ones that we actively apply to our clients' businesses. Not only are clients presented with innovative solutions, they can rely on a group of individuals working tenaciously to find those solutions.

One stereotypical view of this generation is that its members are loners. This view comes from looking through a lens that sees them on their own a lot, in their own world with nothing but a cell phone or laptop. Nothing could be further from the truth. This generation is fabulous at working in a team – after all, gaming is very social, both with friends and now over the internet. So while this generation needs to be measured and rewarded on its own merits, Gen Yers still value the opportunity to work in a team environment.

In summary, here are our tips to help you be an employer of choice for this digital generation, and to help them manage a long and successful career with you:
As leaders, embrace a different way of working, in the approach to clients, employees and business process.

Manage the expectations of your employees. They will expect to grow very quickly; help them to balance their goals with the needs, and sometimes restraints, of the business.
They will be looking for a work/life balance. Think about what allowances you can make to help them achieve this.

If you are a global organization or have global clients, this generation will have a desire to work across those cultural boundaries.

You must help Gen Yers to manage their careers as individuals. Ensure you are giving constant feedback and recognition based on their own merits.
Keep them interested and motivated by allowing them to work on a number of projects at the same time.

This group has an ability to look at innovative ways around problems. Use this to the best advantage for your organization.

You may see Gen Yers as unfocused and a little too sure of themselves, and they may see you as inflexible and stuck in your ways. But there is room for both generations and approaches, as long as there is understanding and a desire to work together for mutual success.

Marie-Claire Barker ( OgilvyOne worldwide - New York )

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