Look out! There’s a Baby Boomer about!

For a long while now, I’ve been interested in the debate about Gen Y. With stats like 50% of the workforce in 10 years will be average age 25, (don’t quote me on that, cos you know, it’s a half truth) it certainly looks like there’s something about to turn the corner which businesses need to be attuned to. And with statements being bandied about like how they are all digital natives, it certainly feels like this is a force heading their way into business to disrupt the normal flow of things. And carry that on with observations that they just need to touch the button of a Google Glass and whoosh they’re off, and you really do get the feeling that this is just all a bit too much and it’s gonna leave businesses standing still.

And we know to take this all with a pinch of salt, so I’m not concerned about who believes it or who not.

What concerns me is where the debate has been heading. And it seems to me that we’ve run head long into an argument which is redundant and completely missed the point.

See, the thing is, it’s not about Gen Y at all. It’s about everyone else in the workplace.

There are a lot of people in the workplace who are on board with new working practices, the need for technology to support new ways of working, and the proliferation of smartphones, apps and digital as a way of life. I mean if my mum (who’s only in her 60s) and my dad (in his 70s) can use a Chromebook with relative ease, the ‘digital native’ concept is so ridiculous that it’s creating a lot of discussion about nothing.

What we’ve missed, completely totally and utterly is the workforce who aren’t ready or prepared for the new world.

They’re the ones who have always caused heartache and pain to managers and HR teams and the likes. But perhaps, just perhaps we’re the ones who’ve had it wrong all along. We’ve bemoaned this lot we have. They’re stuck in their ways. They don’t want to learn new things. That’s just how they are. They’ve always got away with it.

And yet, there in front of us sits a way to understand these perspectives in the form of neuroscience, and in the form of cognitive psychology. Partners in crime, and suddenly a world of insight readily unfolds.

You see, the people who are adept at manoeuvring and keeping with the pace of change are those who have geared themselves up to make that happen. Their neuroplasticity is at a developed enough level that when change comes their way, they can adapt to what that means. They are used to creating new schema in their mental models, re-evaluating what they know, and keeping things moving along.

Be it Gen Y, be it Gen X, or be it your grandparents, we all have that capability and ability. Schooling, for all that critics and cynics rail against education, helps create and prepare us for these constant changes. Our brain doesn’t stop forming and creating pathways unless we let it. Our mental models of the world can readily change, if we accept that can happen.

See, what we’ve known for a long time, and what we know now, marry up in terms of psychological models and modern scientific models.

For our workforces, then, this means that we have a better way of understanding the barriers for helping them be their best self at work.

Ambition exists in all people, we just need to find ways to help that come through. When people are already battling with fixed patterns of working and fixed patterns of thinking, things like motivation, ambition and passion are such far off concepts that they are almost another language. But it’s not because they’re not willing to have those conversations, it’s that they need to understand what they’re stuck with at all.

Understanding how the brain operates, and how cognition develops, help us to understand the challenge we face in the workplace with people who we classify as ‘not willing to change’.

What I haven’t got to, yet, is how we resolve this in an organisational context. What I have got to is that not only is the Gen Y debate dead and buried in my head, it’s that we never should have worried about them in the first place. They’ll adapt just as much as anyone wired up to adapting will do. It’s everyone else at work who is seemingly neglected at the expense of these other groups.

Show me the way

A while back I wrote about the Myth of Gen Y. In that post, I was mainly making the point that treating Gen Y as a special category to be dealt with in organisations is the wrong way to think. In fact you should go off and read it before carrying on. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Welcome back. The development needs of the workforce are no different for Gen Y to any other generation. At the recent HRD12 held by the CIPD, there was a session I attended on Engaging Gen Y in the workplace. There were two interesting talks given from KPMG and Travelodge. As I said in the post, I think Travelodge have chosen the right approach to developing the new workforce of the future.

I want to take a moment to get us to think about how the L&D world seems to be tackling the Gen Y thing. I don’t think we’re tackling it at all, and this is partly a concern for me, and partly a chance to muse about if we need to. The main thing the Gen Y theory has been focused on, if we don’t engage them, we’ll lose them. Well, yes, I can see that would happen. But what does that engagement look like? Dig a little deeper into that question and what I’m asking is, what does L&D look like for this group?

And let’s dig further still. Am I supposed to train this group differently? Do their expectations of immediacy/feedback/collaboration mean I am behind the times in my delivery style? What about their learning methods? All this about digital being ubiquitous in their lives, what do I do with that? Am I meant to create a host of elearning courses that cater for their ‘when I want it’ attitudes? And social media, sure I’m active on it, but I look around, and half of these Gen Y’ers aren’t using it the same way I am, and many others I know. So am I using it wrong, or are they, or have we just not found a place to meet in the middle?

The nuggets I’m searching for have been few and far between. There certainly seems to be some good recruitment activity by various companies for this group, and that’s a good thing. But when I want to know what specific L&D interventions made a difference to the way this group learn, I am left desperately wanting. Adapting my delivery style and understanding the learning needs of the people I’m with is at the core of what I do.

Two companies come to mind, from recent exposure that tell me, yes, they seem to be doing the right kind of thing. The first is Travelodge and their management training programme. It’s aimed at school leavers, and gives them the opportunity gain real world experience at the same time as a solid career. The programme itself is worth applauding, but I heard nothing about the format of the courses, the facilitators of the event, outputs created, or anything which would suggest that I need to up my game.

The second is from a collaborative initiative with Google, Hyperisland and the IPA. It’s called Google Squared, and is a 12 week programme for young people in the media/advertising industries to gain a certificate in digital marketing. I know of the programme because we’ve sent three graduates from LBi to the pilot programme. They’ve come back raving about it, and how great the experience was, and what excellent learning they had. All great stuff. Yet, from what I gather, the delivery of the programme is no different to a well planned, collaborative effort in making the content highly engaging, relevant and meaningful. Give me the arsenal of the above three, and I could produce the same.

So come on. Tell me I’m missing something here. For all the hoo ha there is about retaining this generation for the success of the future, how do we actually do that? And don’t tell me it’s just about offering better coaching and mentoring programmes to them. Or that elearning has to form part of the mix. Or that line managers need better training. Or that they need better exposure to the senior people in an organisation. Those things are already in play by a lot of companies. Tell me that L&D is completely missing the mark in developing Gen Y, and what we can do to make it better.