Why 'future talent' isn't about age

Written by
Tom Crawford

17 Dec 2015

17 Dec 2015 • by Tom Crawford

“Write about future talent!” they said. Immediately my impostor syndrome kicked in: “But I am yesterday’s ‘possibly never even was’ talent. I am the Glenn Medeiros, the Anthea Turner of talent management. And I am old (ish)”. Then a good friend pointed out that being a corporate drop out, consulting pseudo French hillbilly is a talent category in its own right. This made me think.

So today I have decided that I am actually a forty three year old Gen Yer. Gen Y didn’t invent the behaviours they are famous for, they simply had the balls to unleash them in a way we Gen Xer’s were scared to. That is why they, Gen Y, are shaping the working environment for everyone. Didn’t we all inwardly rebel against hierarchy? Didn’t we all have a longing not to conform?

This means that any discussion around ‘future talent’ cannot be age limited. Most major organisations continue to work on their diversity/respect and inclusion agendas. Done well, this is really an adjunct to decent employee engagement – “how do we recognise the individual and engage them for whom they are?” That’s what future talent wants, to bring themselves to work and be treated as an individual.

Time and again I wonder if most people today (with exceptions) are at least moderately good connecting with and understanding people of different faiths, genders, sexual orientations etc, even if it’s at a superficial level. This doesn’t mean they know how to behave in a way future talent expects: “I won’t call you a derogatory name as that’s not allowed, hey I’ve been on the diversity awareness course! However I will still tell you you’re f@*%&*g useless whenever I want, will speak to you like a dictator and generally make you not want to come to work.”

A new style of leadership needed?

That’s why, for future talent, we need to focus on the respect agenda as much as the diversity and inclusion; otherwise we haven’t got a complete solution. In some ways Gen Y are invisible to D&I anyway, but super sensitive to issues of general respect.

In fact, what I see senior leaders and middle management struggling with is how to engage a generation of talent which doesn’t respond to their leadership style. This is often due to the fact that leaders at most levels don’t think about their own personal leadership brand and reputation in this field.

People remember leaders like they do teachers. There are those who inspired and grew us (Miss Rowe, Stanwix Primary, 1983) and those we wouldn’t throw a bucket of water over if they were on fire because they bullied us (Mr B, chemistry, Trinity, 1985). In order to understand how to manage, we need to look at the environment Gen Y grew up in and specifically how they were taught versus we aged 40+ were taught. The difference in relationship with their teachers versus our own defines their leadership expectations in the workplace. However it’s not just Gen Y who want to be managed like that.

A new offering for employees

Professional services firms will struggle with this more than others. Their whole business model is under threat from recruiting thousands of grads who are clinically focused on aligning themselves with the organisation for a fixed period of time in order to build their own personal brand equity. The whole “eventually become a partner” carrot which was enticing to my generation (until they found out what was involved) is not attractive to large swathes of Generation Y.

Where will the partners of tomorrow come from in the numbers the firms require? There is a double hit on this because at the same time more and more of the mid 30-40 population are leaving professional service firms as they pursue quality of life not remuneration. We will start to see more white labelling of talent in order for firms to get a critical mass of chargeable people.

Actually, it’s not just the professional service firms; in terms of future talent, there is a whole cadre of people who don’t want to be owned by a brand as an employee. They want to take their expertise and “lease their talent” to an organisation for a fixed period of time which is mutually beneficial, largely for lifestyle benefit. Don’t believe me? Read HBR, “Rise of the Supertemp”. Don’t believe me? Why is it that repeated stints of 18-24 months on a CV are no longer a black mark? Don’t believe me? How many people do you know operating as freelancers or interims versus ten years ago? The smart organisations use this to great effect. There aren’t many of them. We need to wake up to managing people not employees.

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Written by Tom Crawford

In the last 20 years Tom has worked all over the world with leading brands including Zurich, UBS, British Airways, GSK, Volvo Group, KPMG as a consultant with Omnicom and The Brain Miner, and as a director and senior exec in-house at Deloitte, British Gas and Eon.