Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who Will Change the Workplace?

Okay, Eric, your post from last Tuesday has me thinking. I read McAfee's post and yours, and I get it. When a new generation comes into the workforce, we tend to freak out. There is an interesting pattern to the freaking out, though.

Strauss and Howe argue that generations follow a pattern, alternating between dominant and recessive. Baby Boomers, they argue, are a "dominant" generation. That makes X recessive and then Millennials dominant again (and if you want to go back, the Silent Generation was recessive). So think about it. When the first silents entered the workforce (end of WW2), they didn't really shake things up, because the whole country had just been shaken up and we wanted stability. They took command and control into the manufacturing economy and ran with it. When the Boomers (dominant) entered the workforce, they shook things up because it was the 60s and everything was being shaken up. When Xers (recessive) hit the workforce, we confused the status quo and the question was how is the workplace going to deal with us. Now Millennials come along and the predominant message is they are going to shake things up.

See the pattern? We think recessive generations will blend in or get assimilated, and we think dominant generations will change things. The hourglass shape of the demographics of the last three generations, by the way, only reinforces this trend (two BIG dominant generations around one small recessive one). When McAfee pushes back, he's got a point (because we always need someone to push back against the trend).

But one thing I find interesting, as I pointed out over on my blog, if you look at nearly ANY organization today, you will see a command and control culture, which was the hallmark of the Silents. All this talk about shaking things up, and we still have command and control cultures? We hardly have any more silent generation members in our workforce, yet we're swimming in their culture! So maybe McAfee is right--no matter who the new generation is, things don't change so quickly.

But here's the rub. Things are changing more quickly now. Not generationally--that's about every twenty years. But in most other areas, the pace of change has gone through the roof. In the 90s it took four years for the internet to reach 50 million users, but today Facebook can add 200 million users in nine months. By the time you finish a four-year degree, the stuff you learned in your first year is outdated.

I think the workplace will change significantly in the next several years. It won't be BECAUSE of the millennials, but it is quite possible that they will be better able to adapt to the changes that are happening, and this notion of whether or not the Boomers will give up their spots may become a moot point, because it's rooted in a Silent-Boomer-Xer understanding of the workplace that isn't as relevant any more.

You want to know who is going to change the workplace?

You. So what's it going to be?


Eric Lanke said...

Who do you mean when you say "you," Jamie? Who's going to change the workplace?

Me personally? Eric Lanke with this Quixotic blog is going to change the workplace? Maybe in my little corner of Wisconsin, but certainly no farther than that.

My generation? There we are, Generation X, working unacknowledged and unnoticed behind the scenes to change the very landscape beneath the feet of the dominant generations. You must be reading too much Erickson and Gordinier.

How about anyone who wants to and is fearless enough to try? That's the one that makes the most sense to me.

Jamie Notter said...

I mean anyone who's reading the blog, from any generation. WE are going to change the workplace. Generation X will play a role (granted, probably not a starring one), but we will always have a role, because we are always part of the system. I also think we change the workplace one organization at a time, and when you get that micro, the generational differences become less important, and it's up to the people in that system to do the work of change.

PS: Don't underestimate the power of your blog!! :-)

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Jamie this statement:

"if you look at nearly ANY organization today, you will see a command and control culture, which was the hallmark of the Silents. All this talk about shaking things up, and we still have command and control cultures?"

seems a bit sweeping. Any sources that are leading you to this conclusion. I think command and control is still alive and well, but see much more diverse organizational management in play than this statement would suggest

Jamie Notter said...

@Jeffrey, I agree that command and control is not the only game in town--other models are "in play" as you suggest. As I'm sure you surmised, I am an avid proponent of these other models an increasing their "playing time!" But the domination of the command and control model still seems apparent to me. Show me an organization of eight people, and I'll show you an org chart with some boxes below other boxes. In every single organization I've come in contact with, there has been a reporting structure. The only one I've even heard that does it radically different is W.L. Gore. Granted, that's anecdotal research, but I would stand by my assertion that command and control is infused in nearly any organization you come across. It's not an either/or (i.e., your culture is either command and control or it's not). It's always a mix. But I still think command and control is dominant. It's the default.

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