Monday, September 12, 2005

And This Surprises You?

Why it took me until now to stumble across a study that was jointly conducted by AgeWave, The Concours Group, and Harris Interactive I don’t know, but given that my reading these days seems to be pretty much confined to scanning the online NY Times in the morning and dashing through the WSJ on my way out for lunch I guess that might explain it. Fortunately for me, colleagues like Lauryn Franzoni keep an eye out for things that they think might be of interest, and this study certainly was.

The survey included 7,718 workers “…in every industry about the current and future profile of the American workforce.” From this data, they then identified six “distinct categories (i.e. profiles) of workers who differences derive more from attitudes toward work and life circumstances than age, gender, race, or ethnicity.”

In a nutshell, the profiles played out as follows:

  1. Self-Empowered Innovators (14 percent): Hardworking, entrepreneurial, well-educated and self-empowered. They want work that’s stimulating and that serves a larger social purpose.

  2. Fair & Square Traditionalists (20 percent): Highly reliable and loyal with below average education and above average incomes. They work hard and expect to be paid for it.

  3. Accomplished Contributors (17 percent): Team players who work hard and have a very positive attitude toward their employers, colleagues and workplace. They want to learn and grow on the job.

  4. Maverick Morphers (15 percent): Salient characteristics are confidence, intellectual curiosity and high energy. These are the innovators who generally do best in smaller organizations.

  5. Stalled Survivors (19 percent): Stressed out. Want a good paycheck and a fun work environment for now but something more productive and successful down the road. This is the youngest group.

  6. Demanding Disconnects (15 percent): The least satisfied and productive segment. Want their employers to step up and provide extensive benefits but are willing to provide little energy or commitment in return.

Source: Joint Study of Age Wave (, The Concours Group ( and Harris Interactive Inc. (
The big “worry” that was talked about in the survey summary I read was this:

“Most distressing, they said, is the finding that the youngest workers, tomorrow’s leaders, are uncommitted to their work and often constitute a negative influence in the workforce. At the same time, older workers are blossoming, showing a can-do attitude across much of the workforce. The challenge for corporations is transitioning the variety of attitudes for the benefit of the company, and nurturing future business leaders.”

Having tried to digest all this, and if I had the wherewithal, I was tempted to take out one of those neat looking full page ads in the NY Times that would have said in so many words “and this surprises you?” Is this not a condition with which the “boomers” and the Gen X and Gen Y world are all too familiar?

In the world in which we at ExecuNet operate on a daily basis, we have the opportunity to talk with a lot of people who are in very senior-level executive jobs, and there are precious few I have talked to over time who aren’t worried about the same thing that this survey points out, and as an aside, they feel like they “blossomed” quite some time ago. They do, however, spend a good deal of their time trying to deal with the issue of commitment -- in some cases their own, and in others that of their subordinates.

To me, it doesn’t feel like much of a mystery. The generations they are talking about who are “uncommitted” is made up of “kids” who grew up watching what happened to their moms and dads who traded loyalty to an organization in return for what they foolishly believed or wanted to believe was job security. When the reality of the myth was revealed, companies have been challenged ever since to try and figure out how to regain the trust of their employees. It is, I believe, trust that is the engine that drives real commitment. I also believe it is commitment that is the single most important element that gives any organization a competitive advantage, especially when it comes to the incremental productivity that is out there for every organization beyond that which comes from the application of technology.

Maybe it’s just my rose-colored glasses that they give to those of us who fall into the category of the workers who somehow still have this so-called “can-do” attitude or maybe it is because once or twice over the past 40+ years I was fortunate enough to work for a manager that showed me the difference in how someone feels when they are “working for” versus “working with.” It wasn’t that I didn’t always understand who the boss was, but the way I was coached and counseled that made me feel truly “valued” and which translated itself into commitment with a capital “C”.

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