Employees are changing…Radically.


Starting during the dot.com boom back in 1996 to 2002, and most recently in the last three years as the latest tech revolution has taken hold, a genuine resurgence of human potential-centred demand came coursing back into the working world.

The intellectual power of the human being was recognised as an essential asset and suddenly CXOs cared urgently about engagement. Without the right people, the right skills and experience, there was no way to succeed.


Generational evolution

This particular period in our history has created a much more marked disparity between generations than I can remember – aside possibly when the 1950’s ran headlong into the 1960’s – it’s a very similar tectonic shift.

Digital Natives

[Digital Natives Wikipedia] – those born after 1980 and who have grown up with laptops, mobile smart phones, tablets and digitally curated information at their fingertips think about the world in a very different manner than say Baby Boomers – whose generation ended in 1964, and who grew up with paper books, library cards, physical encyclopaedias, vinyl LPs and dumb electronics (not interconnected nor integrated).

The Millennials and Gen Z generations are extremely comfortable with hyper-fast information gathering, highly collaborative communications, instant access to just about everything – and have no natural patience, nor understanding as to why a process, organisation or bit of information takes time to ‘think’ about something before feeding back directly to them.

Baby Boomers are still struggling to keep up with the incredible pace of innovation and digital products and services that seemingly spew forth from app stores and the internet almost daily. I know because I straddle the line between Boomer and Gen X and this pace of change is like drinking from a fire hose!


Generational conflict

Conflicts naturally arise between these generational gaps.

Older generations want to enjoy a more gentle pace of exploration and engagement with digital – relying on tried and trusted products and services, whilst the younger generations are absorbing new tech at the speed of a Google search.

Naturally, there are more Gen X and Baby Boomers in the CXO suite today than Millennials and Gen Z members.

…So you can imagine just how frustrated people get with one another trying to set direction, achieve targets, focus on key projects and deliver value. Whilst at the same time embracing new rules like failing fast and early, innovating at great speed, engaging in multiple conversations with customers, employees and partners and trying to make sense of it all to exploit patterns and trends to stay competitive.

Bottom line – it isn’t an easy environment to educate, train, hire, employ or succeed with rifts as large as these abounding – much less to excel.


Newer generations of employees

Newer generations of employees (Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z) aren’t going to put up with the factory model of the 20th century assembly line company, slogging it out day in and day out working for ‘the man’ for a wage that is .000001% of what the CXO are earning.

They are now asking new questions:

“Why am I giving this company my precious time and effort?”
“What is the purpose of my work with this organisation?”
“How can my contribution be recognised now vs. 10 years from now?”


Seeking a new experience

The new employee is desperately seeking a new relationship with work that fits into their overall lifestyle and desired pattern of living.

People want more powerful relationships between each another, and for that to be authentic, meaningful and impactful.

As a customer I want to have a real dialog with the companies I do business with and let them know how they can treat me better, provide products and services that really support my lifestyle, and I want those suggestions to come to life quickly.

Think of these two populations as both requiring attention, personalisation, engagement and a proactive feedback discussion. They don’t have different requirements and it’s not about the money – it’s about being treated with respect, dignity and recognition of your individuality.


Growing customer centricity – Virgin Hotels

I would encourage you to read about the new reviews of Virgin’s latest endeavour – a gorgeous turn-of-the-century hotel in the heart of Chicago [Forbes review of Virgin Hotel – Chicago].


Virgin Hotel - Customer centricity


As usual – they got everything right – having listened to millions of complaints and watched an equal number of people engage with hotel chains.

They turned the experience on its ear by fixing as many problems as possible: free wifi, outlets everywhere, female “Bell Boys” and overtly friendly staff who know who you are, a mini-bar items at street prices, amazing accommodations, and it’s all about YOU, and your experience first – not draining your wallet dry.

How do they do this? By collecting data, reviewing patterns, listening to customers, and never losing touch with them again. It’s not a gimmick. It’s a success strategy.

Employees enjoy being employees because their mission is to bring happiness and fulfilment to their customers (and they see an immediate return on their kindness and mindfulness).

Everybody’s opinion counts and is listened to. Everybody ‘sells’ all day long by going above and beyond for their guests.


What is the new employee looking for?


  • I want to be recognised for my genius, my creativity and for seeing things that leaders with more influence in the organisation will take on board and turn into actionable outcomes.

  • I want to be a part of a company that changes the world for the better every day.

  • I want to know that the leaders, inventors and peers in my organisation trust and support one another – and importantly learn from each other.

  • I want a mission that follows a vision – because my life is worth more than a 9-to-5 job…It should be fulfilling.


Companies need to address these new needs

It’s about culture and people first.

When you get that right, great products, revenues, loyal customers and a bright future comes naturally.

If your company doesn’t offer that experience, then talented employees will find some place that ‘gets them’ and where they fulfil their hierarchy of needs. Or, they will just go out on their own and become an entrepreneur and create that perfect environment themselves.

As a business, if you can’t answer these needs quickly and definitively – you have a disengaged employee on your hands.

Disengaged employee = a cost on your hands:

Attrition costs equal 1.5x the salary of each exiting employee – so multiply that over your annual attrition rate to get the point.

Take a look: CIPD Report on Measuring the Cost of Staff Turnover]

You don’t ‘own’ your employees, you only ‘rent’ them every day. They vote with their attitudes, contributions and their feet.

If the basic tenants of life are not being answered at work regarding meaning, purpose, impact, creativity, learning, contribution and sense of accomplishment, then your organisation isn’t going to thrive like so many new market entrants will.

To attract and retain the best talent employers need to learn to exhibit value and gratitude to your employees as much as to your customers.


Forward thinking organisations

The resurgence of start-ups built on the back of a whole new infrastructure back-bone – our emerging cloud capability – has brought about the realisation that you no longer need to create, build, own or maintain many of the expensive and growth-limiting assets previously required to scale painfully upward to reach a billion dollar valuation.

What you DO need to have is:

  • A Massive Transformative Purpose
  • Some rather intelligent technology (that you outsource)
  • Clever people who provide 150% in terms of passion, drive and intensity
  • Street smarts about what will help you scale your proposition (without owning any assets)


The common characteristics of new disruptor’s

Salim Ismail is a co-founder at Singularity University – the digital think tank that was the brain-child of Ray Kurzweil [http://www.exponentialorgs.com/]

In Salim Ismail’s book, Exponential Organisations, he boils down the basic element of becoming an exponential organisation, riding on the back of emergent technologies that disrupts and dis-intermediates that traditional 20th century mature organisational model.

He describes two sets of elements that are required, neatly encapsulated in two acronyms – IDEAS & SCALE:

IInterfaces (the technology that understands how workflows are affected, the behaviour of users/customers, to then translate into personalised results for your customer such as Uber’s tracking of your location and pairing with an available ride)
DDashboards (technology to track your key performance indicators – real time)
EExperimentation (the culture that embraces Lean Start-up concepts – fail fast and learn faster – but no blame, only growth)
AAutonomy (self-organising, multi-disciplinary teams, decentralised decision-making and rapid speed to market)
SSocial (use social media to engage and connect your employees, users, customers, contributors, fans and critics – allowing transparency and honest, trusted sharing of concepts, ideas, solutions)

SStaff on Demand (open source big projects or highly specialised requirements)
CCommunity & Crowd (who is your trusted circle of contributors, and engaging the larger population for creativity, innovation, validation or funding)
AAlgorithms (AI, machine learning, data analytics to discover trends, patterns, behaviours to better predict your company’s future)
LLeveraged Assets (computational resources, staff-on-demand, office equipment, communication, marketing, sales, HR, legal, manufacturing, etc. are all outsourced)
EEngagement (digital reputation systems, gamification, incentive prizes that create a positive interaction between your company and the broader community – an potential buyers)

These are the core constructs of companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Nest, Tesla, SpaceX, Google, Facebook, Slack, Lending Club, Alibaba– but also being used by far more mature companies such as Whirlpool, GE, UPS, Apple, HBO, Virgin Atlantic, Toyota, Netflix, etc.

There is no excuse not to embrace these new ways of working as it will only be a matter of time before your company or industry experiences deep disruption or reinvention if you ignore it.


Rethinking your business model and organisational design

That starts with assessing:

  • Your organisation’s people, their competence to embrace this new thinking and ways of working
  • Your company’s structure, decision-making approach, product innovation and turnaround
  • Your ability to analyse key data across the enterprise to build predictive models, and your relationship with your employees, customers and the world. That includes all support functions such as Legal, HR, Risk & Compliance and Finance too!

As John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems, noted in his departing keynote speech to colleagues and customers at his last Cisco Systems conference before retiring in the summer of 2015:

“Forty percent of businesses in this room, unfortunately, will not exist in a meaningful way in 10 years,” he told the 25,000 attendees, adding that 70% of companies would “attempt” to go digital but only 30% of those would succeed. “If I’m not making you sweat, I should be” Chambers said.

“It will become a digital world that will change our life, our health, our education, our business models at the pace of a technology company change,” Chambers said.

He warned companies that they could not “miss a market transition or a business model” or “underestimate your competitor of the future — not your competitor of the past.”

“Either we disrupt or we get disrupted,” he said.

I can’t think of a better qualified person than Mr. Chambers to comment on the Darwinian nature of digital evolution; embracing the rapids that lay ahead of us all and engaging employees, customers and partners to help us get through it would be a very wise approach indeed.


Want help with your people, process and technology?

Get in touch with Jeff

Strategy & Leadership – Digital People

Call +44 7921 888558