Family reunion of the garden gnomes
580,000 successions have to be settled. That is how many SMEs will see a change at the helm by 2017. That is according to research by the KfW. So where are all of these people going to come from? The KfW doubts that we actually have that many young entrepreneurs. However, I would like to highlight a further, equally remarkable aspect: The different generations that come into question as successors. First come the Generation Z, which is now beginning to enter the labour market. Born around the turn of the century, the first of these are now beginning their vocational training or academic studies. So this is a target group when it comes to successions in SMEs if someone in the company moves up into the company management. And then there is Generation Y, many of which took a break between school and study. Which means that they too will be entering the labour market at the same time. And then we’ve also got Generation X, where a restructuring is also currently taking place. At around 50, some will now be looking for new challenges elsewhere after having been subject to job cuts. In the following articles we will look at the pros and cons of these three groups. We will soon also write about how these generations can be successful together, how HR departments can play their part, and how they can arrange themselves with the retiring baby boomers.
Let’s start with Generation Z. These people are rather similar to the baby boomers as well as large parts of Generation X. They attach great importance to family and tradition, and prefer to stay at home, often even in the same village in which they grew up. They aim for security and stability. And that is recognized by the older generation. The dilemma: While this attitude by the Baby Boomers and Generation X was a product of the deprivation of the war (the impressions and patterns of parents who had lived through the war had a great impact), in this generation it is actually a counter-reaction to the escapism of Generation Y. These young people live at home. This is not a problem in principle, but the undiscerning attitude associated with it is. It is thus that graduates of a training programme or course of studies have not yet had to command a budget or make any far-reaching decisions. Neither have they bought a car (if they even have a licence, the car was bought by dad), nor have they ever signed a rental agreement (after all, they live at home for free) or used a washing machine. The danger here is that, because they are so similar to the older generation, these new young employees may be directly propelled by the older generation into positions that will require them to make decisions. And also due to the fact that positions have to be filled in the course of successions, this will surely be the case. So there they are, those young people who look like the clones of their parents, with the same garden gnomes on the front lawn, and they are now expected to make decisions. And they will surely do so, however, without any sense for the consequences. This dilemma must be avoided. What can certainly help here is a targeted assessment of new employees, as well as coaching during the initial on-the-job training. What also makes a lot of sense is the pairing of colleagues, where an older colleague acts as a supporting mentor for a younger one. If this is ensured, SME’s can fill the top positions from within their own ranks and occupy the vacant positions with young employees, without jeopardising the company.
So that leaves us with Generation Y. Please forgive me for generalizing and lumping them all together. Generation Y is the first generation that does not have any doubts about its own abilities. Furthermore, it was taught that it can achieve anything. The fact that this also entails work was often understated. So now young people are also coming onto the labour market after having taken some time off to discover themselves. They went on trips around the world and worked in charities. This is where the requirements of good values that are lived by are particularly significant. Questions like “how do you lead?” and “is the company living your values?” are issues that are discussed at job interviews. SMEs may see these employees as unsuitable, as they do not fit as well to the other colleagues. However, it would be very refreshing to get these employees and the acquired experience into the company. It would surely be interesting to see how the production of screws is seen from the point of view of someone who has worked in a kitchen for the homeless in Colombia. This is where that famous “out of the box thinking” comes into play. However, these different worlds can easily get used to one another. A coach can work wonders. And the human resources department can also build bridges. In addition to external coaches, general education offers should also be considered in order to illustrate diversity and its benefits. A breath of fresh air can often turn out to be more of a storm that swirls up things and cleans everything up. This would be a good thing for SMEs if it is managed well.
And then there’s Generation X, which looks like the other employees anyway. So that would mean that an employee who belongs to that generation is welcomed with open arms? But in this case there is the problem that the issue at hand is that of succession. So why should you replace a 65-year-old with a 50-year-old? And if it is not a substitute, because the successor will come from internal ranks, why would one fill up the vacant spot with an older person? Because this “old” person may have a similar age to the rest of the staff, but has changed jobs at least once more. Therefore this person brings with him more experience, which will serve him and the company well. Because, this employee speaks the same language as the rest. So that makes this the most evolutionary of revolutions that could happen to SMEs. This should be supported by a coach who works on ensuring that the similarity does not cause the differences to be overlooked.
What do you do when all the generations come together? Build bridges, coach, adapt. This is where it is about expanding HR processes in order to enable such bridge building. When it comes to coaching, you have to ensure in a creative way that the relationship is fruitful for 3 parties: the coach, the person being coached and the company. Together with the human resources department and the management, an interim manager can describe a new strategy that is welcomed by all generations. The interim manager can also make sure that the personnel processes gain the flexibility that they need in order to enable the coexistence of a total of 4 generations. He can also fill gaps in experience, and bridge the time that is required to find the right successor. There are certainly many different ways in which interim managers can help SMEs to succeed in the long term with new dynamic employees.
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