The demands of bringing on a new generation of Millennials as leaders could spell big changes for organisations — and even disruption. Learning models and leadership models alike could come under pressure, and L&D face a loss of control over the learning experience. These were some of the possibilities raised by the first of a three-part Think Tank discussion we held recently in London.
Millennials are now the largest single generational cohort in the workforce and assuming leadership positions. To discuss how we can best support their leadership learning, and respond to the points raised in our recently released insight paper, Leadership, learning and the connected generation, we assembled an invited group of L&D leaders and now report their discussion under Chatham House rules.
Delegates were from organisations including Belron, The Home Office, IEDP, Lloyds Banking Group, MOD, Pragma Consulting, Rolls Royce and Vodafone. Most of our delegates have day-to-day contact with workforces that include large numbers of millennials, and some were from organisations whose workforce is drawn almost entirely from this age group.
Such an approach is always fraught with risks, of course. Outcomes can be a bit unpredictable. And so it proved: what we found out was surprising – and even counter-intuitive.
We had gone in driven by certain assumptions about the characteristics of Millennials that turned out not to stand up to scrutiny. We had swallowed whole the media image of this generational cohort as lazy, entitled narcissists who shirk responsibility – and on that basis, set out to see what disruptive effects this might be having on leadership learning within organisations.
I have already documented on this blog the way that Jennifer Deal of CCL initially turned those preconceptions around. Other academics we talked to seemed to disagree with her, and were prepared to back up the ‘Generation Me’ view of Millennials (there are large datasets on both sides). But when we workshopped a group of Millennials, and spoke to L&D professionals who work with them in organisations (including two consultants from the worlds of corporates and defencerespectively, we found more and more evidence to contradict our starting position. The kids, it seems, in the words of Pete Townsend, are all right.
So what is going on here? Why is the popular view of Millennials apparently so out of whack with what others report?
The qualities of our top leaders is generally well documented, with the leading business schools and other well informed organisations regularly reviewing and reporting on what attributes make for the best leaders.
But we all know that leaders and managers are two different breeds and we need to recognise the difference. John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita professor of leadership at Harvard University says that too often, employers use the terms synonymously.
He says, “Management is a set of processes that keep an organisation functioning. They make it work today – they make it hit this quarter’s numbers. The processes are about planning, budgeting, staffing, clarifying jobs, measuring performance, and problem-solving when results did not go to plan. Leadership is very different. It is about aligning people to the vision that means buy-in and communication, motivation and inspiration.”
So, given that not everybody can be a great leader – what are the distinctive qualities that great managers bring?
Why do we persist in talking about compliance learning as if it were one thing when actually it’s many different things? Achieving financial compliance for a bank doesn’t really have that much in common with ensuring HSE compliance on an offshore oil rig – and technical compliance for product development is something else again. So surely the training should be quite distinct too in each case? When you look close up, compliance is such a different beast from sector to sector that it surely begs the question: is compliance learning even a meaningful category?
It might seem strange to ask this. Looking at recent research, ATD (formerly ASTD) identifies ‘Mandatory and Compliance’ as the number one content area in its 2014 ‘State of the Industry’ report, and Brandon Hall Group’s research indicates that 49% of US organizations consider compliance training to be either a priority or critical to their business. Compliance training represents a significant slab of revenues for the global training industry and – although reliable industry figures are thin on the ground here – an even larger proportion of elearning revenues, by all accounts.
However, although compliance learning is clearly a well established category so far as the vendor market is concerned, do customers view it that way? I suspect not.