During the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton campaign strategist James Carville famously coined the phrase “The economy, stupid.” That message was reportedly intended to be only an internal note for campaign workers in the Little Rock headquarters to highlight when speaking with constituents (for those keeping track, one of the other talking points was “Don’t forget healthcare.”) As the story goes, the phrase ended up becoming the slogan for the entire election campaign.
When I last wrote in December, my message was for all of us to get creative about solving the industry’s talent crisis. Today, I’m thinking beyond just attracting the talent; I’m thinking, “The culture, stupid!”
This mantra of sorts rang through my head (a lot) last month as I sat through a number of interviews to fill a position at The Council. I kept catching myself instinctively evaluating each candidate from my own generational perspective as an employer and worker and keeper of the culture instead of, perhaps, focusing more on how they might be successful here. Fortunately, I had generational expert Warren Wright’s recent presentation about “second-wave” millennials still in my head.
Wright invited us to throw out all our generational misconceptions. Take millennials, for example, who are cited to hold an average of seven jobs between the ages of 18 and 28. Most of us boomers believe that millennials are impossible to wrangle and understand and that more often than not they leave jobs because the ping-pong table is broken, they didn’t get a gold star on their last report and the coffee is weak. Wright reminded us, however, that those things aren’t necessarily true; millennials leave jobs because of poor management.
It became clear to me after reflecting on this research that our industry’s biggest issue is not the attraction of talent or “getting the word out”; it’s culture. Regardless of our efforts to attract new people to our industry and to be diverse and inclusive, the success or failure of talent in any organization comes down to the culture.
Culture is the single most difficult management challenge there is. Ask the hundreds of leaders who have tried to maintain or redeploy their culture during an acquisition. This is the first time in modern history there are five generations working side by side. There are boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Y (those aforementioned “second-wave” millennials). Gen Z is young, but they’re out there too. And with each new generation comes a new workplace dynamic, adding yet another layer of complexity to cross-generational harmony.
The good news is there’s great talent in each generation. The challenge is bringing together their different insights, perspectives, motivations and modes of thinking to accomplish shared organizational goals.
I believe we can learn something by digging into this generational misconception exercise. If you really think about it, employees of all ages are looking for similar things in the workplace: a mission and a company they can be proud of, a sense of community, and leaders they can trust. A strong digital presence doesn’t hurt either (more on that later).
We should be spending less time on the differences and more time on the shared values.
If we don’t get a handle on this, we won’t drive the best of our organizations. Leadership is not only about having a vision and setting the strategic direction; it’s about being a steward of the culture you are keeping. And driving the most out of your organization means understanding who is sitting at the table, what their strengths are and what they value.
Building a culture that works is a journey that is well worth the effort. How’s that for your firm’s 2019 campaign slogan?
(Oh, and don’t forget about healthcare.)