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User orientation in talent management: Progress knows neither age, gender nor origin!

The free job market is becoming increasingly diverse. The proportion of employed female academics is rising, more and more people with an immigrant background are becoming visible in key positions in the economy, and for the first time in history, no less than five generations are working side by side.

Diverse hiring AND culture

That’s wonderful! And it has consequences. People’s expectations regarding their work environments are changing. Or let’s say: they are becoming just as diverse. The spectrum of where we work, how we work, and what technology we (want to) use to do it has become so much broader in recent months, a development that is irreversible and will continue at a dizzying pace. The “tipping point” has long been reached. Now companies are being asked to adapt to this new diversity, both in recruiting but also in terms of their internal people management. When faced with a diverse workforce, “one-size-fits-all” solutions no longer work. In the future, learning and development opportunities, work models, and forms of collaboration will have to be geared more closely to what individuals need and want. Diversity is no longer just about filling positions with the most diverse people possible, along the lines of: “a few women, a few old people, a few digital natives – then it’s a done deal and we can carry on as usual. Much more important is the question of how diversity is lived in the company, how employees interact with each other, and how inclusive behavior is anchored in the company culture. Companies need to ask themselves:

  • What are our goals and intentions regarding diversity in the company?
  • Why do we want to be diverse?
  • How do we design processes differently and inclusively? How well do we know people and their individual needs? What progress have we made along the way?
  • How do we attract a broad range of new talents, and how do we retain those who are already there?
  • How do we shift our corporate culture toward more openness, exchange, and willingness to learn from and with each other?

In the end, what makes employees an asset to the company is not the external attributes (“experienced employee,” “digital native,” “migrant,” “female leader”), but their very individual skills and experiences.

Progress knows no age

This is particularly well illustrated by the generational conflict in organizations that is repeatedly conjured up. The “young Netflixers” vs. the “color TV generation,” “Gen Z” vs. “baby boomers,” the (supposed) digital natives vs. those who avoid dealing with new technology. But is that indeed the case?

A few fun facts: 

  • Percentage of eighth-graders with high digital literacy: 1.9%.
  • Average age of the CEOs of Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon: 56 (incl. Facebook: 51)
  • Percentage of people over the age of 65 who say they want to learn digital applications: 66

(Source: brandeins, Issue 9, September 2020)

So what would happen if all the stereotype boxes were replaced by many open shelves with space for the entire wealth of experience of an organization? A treasure trove that everyone can help themselves to as needed? With the help of smart technology, for example? Because in the end, it is the experiences that each person gathers day by day that allow him or her to mature and shape their view of the world. On the one hand, experiences make us more mature and wise, broaden our horizons, and perhaps make us better leaders. At the same time, experiences make us a bit more youthful in our thinking because they sharpen our view of the world and lead us to not be blinded by stereotypes. In the end, it’s not someone’s age that reveals how young their mind is, because learning something new, having new experiences, networked with others, and supported by digital technology, that’s always possible! In the brandeins magazine (issue 9, September 2020), Wolf Lotter writes: “Development does not distinguish between young and old. Development only knows progress, and progress does not consist of maintaining the status quo, but of continuously improving.”

Continuously improving – that should be what organizations aspire to:

  • Continuously learning – and in a way that each employee gets what they need for their development. 
  • Continuously improving collaboration – namely, in such a way that different perspectives are heard and incorporated into the development of new products and services. 
  • Continuously improving leadership – with openness, courage, and trust in the employees and their abilities. 
  • Continuously working better – in harmony with the employees’ lives but also with their role in the social fabric of a team.

The ‘Generation Netflix’ – in the end, that’s all of us

How do companies get there? – By creating conditions in which ALL employees can make completely new experiences that broaden their horizons. The “Netflix generation” – in the end, that’s all of us! Because whether an offer, such as a new technology, is accepted by people of all age groups ultimately depends on the benefit it generates for the individual. Studies in this context have shown that it is only the point in time at which people become enthusiastic about an innovation that varies. While young people tend to be early adopters and can already be persuaded by a product’s ease of use, older people often don’t use new tools unless they are of tangible benefit to them. But at that point, they are no less enthusiastic and committed than their younger colleagues. Rawn Shah calls this “usefulness over usability” in an article on Forbes.com and refers to findings from the book “The Gen Z Effect” by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen.

Consequently, for all innovations in companies, be they of a cultural or technological nature, this means:

  • If possible, they must be easily accessible to all employees.
  • They must be easy to use. 
  • They must provide the greatest possible individual benefit for a variety of different people.
  • They must provide the company with insights into the diversity of interests and needs of users so that future offerings can be tailored accordingly.

Sounds like rocket science? – It’s not. Because when it comes down to it, people – no matter their age, origin, or gender – are surprisingly similar. What unites us all is the lowest common denominator, the desire for a better world, for real progress that does not come at the expense of others. For a future that we can look forward to instead of living in fear of it. Shaping this future can only succeed if we work together.

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