The dilemma of managing four generations in the workplace

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By TABITHA AREBA

For productivity to be alive and well in any organisation, there are some key factors that employers need to focus on.

There is a new problem at the workplace and it has nothing to do with salary increment, flexible working hours or downsizing. For the first time in the corporate world, four generations are working together and they seem to have fundamental differences in the way they look at things. We have the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z. With this reality, there is a huge dilemma on how businesses can ensure optimal productivity. The 2016 KIM Corporate Breakfast brought together HR experts to look into this dilemma and how to get it right. In Kenya for example, 75 per cent of the population is below the age of 35 years, meaning that policies and processes in most organisations suit only 25 per cent of the population.

All this notwithstanding, companies are clinging to these outdated policies which, according to Waceke Muia, a Coach and Independent Consultant is synonymous to “using old tools to fix ultra-modern machines.” This has brought about tension and division at the work place, a major barrier to productivity. Julius Kipng’etich, CEO Uchumi Supermarkets says there should be a change of mindset and reorganization as times change to accommodate all these generations. For example, he says, the younger generations require constant engagement and organisations need to rethink about their leadership conversation. More than ever, the need to rethink and reengineer corporations and reporting systems is rife. “We should have network organisations as opposed to pyramid organisations,” says Waceke. She calls upon companies to be as truly agile as Silicon Valley. This requires companies to emulate all of what makes the Scrum and Agile Movement methodologies successful, to birth new ideas. An article published in the Business Insider on How to be as agile as Silicon Valley’s best outlines facets that companies that have made Silicon Valley agile; A horizontal business structure, empowering employees to challenge the status quo. A culture that accompanies this – rewarding employees for innovation rather than conformity. Hiring practices that emphasise self-starters, as well as a diversity of thought, experience and skills. A willingness to experiment, fail and learn from those ideas. Tracking what has been done and what is left, as well as what could be done better. Crowdsourcing ideas and feedback.

Amalgamating all these can maximize productivity and make companies great.

What is productivity and why should companies care about productivity?

Julius Kipng’etich, CEO, Uchumi Supermarket

Productivity is an input-output relationship, and organisations should focus on transforming input to maximize output. Transformation processes revolve around people and it is here that many organisations don’t do very well. Let’s take the case of Singapore and Kenya. In 1963, Kenya’s GDP was USD926.6 million while Singapore’s was USD917.2 million. By 2013, Kenya’s economy stood at USD55.24 billion while Singapore’s was a USD297.9 billion economy.

In 2015, Singapore GDP per capita was USD51,855.08 compared to Kenya’s which stood at USD 1,133.46 in 2015, according to Trading Economics. In regard to tourism, which is the second largest source of foreign revenue, Kenya is not doing well either. France, a country that is almost the size of Kenya attracts more than 84.7 million tourists a year, compared to Kenya’s 500,000. Kenya’s agricultural outputs are very low than some countries that have much smaller spaces. With excellent management, Kenya should be a welfare state. One mistake that leaders both in the public and private sector make is the assumption that a measure will elicit a certain response and lead to productivity. Measures must be dynamic. For example, why does France attract many tourists compared to Kenya? Are we measuring the wrong parameters? What is the goal and how do we measure it?

At corporate level, Julius recommends that businesses must rethink leadership. Unlike older generations that were comfortable working with rules, structures job permanence, pension and procedures, the younger generations at the work place are more interested in learning, flexibility, freedom and faster growth. Understanding these dynamics is critical for productivity.

Mwikali Muthiani, Independent HR Consultant

Productivity is not about profitability, but the desired result. Productivity is not about performance management, it is a product of performance management. It is just an outcome of performance management. Productivity is not about others, it starts with every person at a very individual level. Most people fail in productivity because they do not measure or carry out an evaluation of their work. Shortcomings in productivity include meetings and interruptions in open offices. Meetings waste a lot of time. Companies should introduce days in the office when people do not talk to one another. Additionally, employees should be given an opportunity to give views on the environment that makes them most productive.

Mwikali says we are now getting into a new era of the gig economy. Millennials don’t want to be tied up in one workplace for a long time. They prefer to be independent consultants. They want to achieve so much in little time and therefore they will take two to three jobs in different organizations so that they get a lot of experience in the shortest time possible and then move on.

Waceke Muia, Independent HR Consultant

Productivity is a collective measure but people measure only man, and not process effectiveness. Productivity should be measured in all perspectives, to avoid rework, scrap and waste. For example in the use of equipment, we should always ask ourselves – how optimal is the use of these equipment? We should understand the 4MS – man, machine, method and money – and develop targets around them. Companies need to continuously look at the work context and leverage other emerging technologies to maximize productivity. We should not use old practices in a modern world. Additionally, let us not confuse performance management with productivity. For example, should we measure man-hours or productivity per man? Companies should also realize that as a business grows, the environment changes. For example, right now, we are operating under the VUCA (Volatile, uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) environment that keeps changing. Therefore, we need to always have a finger on the dial.

Enhancing productivity is also about looking at the user experience. Younger generations are interested in work-life balance and the whole experience at the workplace. Creating flexible workplaces that deliver fulfilling user experience to employees can go along way in enhancing productivity.

Paul Kasimu, Group Human Resource Director, EABL

Productivity is efficiency (getting it done) and effectiveness (how you get it done). From my assessment, organisations do not seem to know what they are chasing, and most Kenyans suffer from presentism. The key question is; how do leaders achieve outcome? Line managers should be amazing people managers. They need to create an enabling environment for maximum productivity. They should also understand that not everything that counts is counted, and not everything that is counted counts. Additionally, work is not a place but space. On people’s level of engagement and social media disruptions, managers should also stop the unconscious bias on small screen distraction versus big screen concentration.

Paul notes that there is a huge gap between academic training and getting the right working skills for hire. There is a notion that there is a lot of talent but the truth of the matter is there are very few people with the right skills that employers are looking for. There is therefore increasingly the need to bridge the gap between academic training and industry needs. Organizations must also invest a lot in training young talent to make them fit for work. This includes effective onboarding and socialization.

Ways to enhance productivity

• Leverage social media as part of business strategy and not see it as a waste of time

• From autocratic leadership to conversational leadership

• Identity based leadership –what do you stand for as a leader?

• Creating effective organizational culture – what is the language in your organization? What rituals do you do on a daily, weekly or annual basis?

• There is need to rethink old fundamentals of management theory and organisational design to create effective and productive 21st century business institutions

Email: tareba@kim.ac.ke

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