Friday, January 19, 2007

Another Funny Mixed up Day

This has been another of those funny mixed up days.

Earlier this week I passed 6,000 visitors on both the Managing the Professional Services firm blog and the New England Australia blog. Then today I passed 9,000 visitors on this blog, 3,000 visitors on the Regional Living Australia blog. Not huge numbers, but still over 24,000 in total is not to be sneezed at since I only started last year.

The day began well simply because I knew that I would pass these milestones. Then it kind of tailed away simply because I was not able to achieve the things that I wanted to achieve. A pain really. But then it all came back with Jack's return.

Generation Y and People Management

During the day I read some stuff, I won't bother sourcing it, on generation y that I found profoundly depressing. I wasn't depressed about generation y as such, just the assumption that nobody over a certain age could possibly manage them because they could not understand them.

I found this profoundly disturbing at several different levels.

At level one, managing people is all about just that, managing people.

My experience has been that all people regardless of age or culture respond well to a small number of things.

Number one is fairness. Treat people fairly and they will respond well.

Number two is consistency. People like to know where they stand, what is expected of them, how you will respond to them. Do all this, and they will respond well.

Number three is courtesy. We have all seen work place bullies, and they can get short term results. But for most of us, if you treat people with courtesy they will respond well.

Number four is individuality. We are all individuals, not numbers or groups, and like to be recognised as such.

Number five is loyalty. Look after your people and they will look after you.

In all this, there will always be individual exceptions. But over the years I must have had a thousand direct reports from more than a dozen nationalities. The number who have let me down is very small.

So when I look at HR people who treat people as groups, categories, rather than individuals I get depressed.

The case of epidemiology is instructive here.

Epidemiology looks at patterns in populations as a whole. So in medicine we may look, for example, at patterns of cancer and conclude that certain types of screening may have certain public benefits across a population as a whole. However, this says nothing about the value of screening for particular individuals, the societal value lies in the aggregate impact.

When we talk about generation x, generation y or nextgen, we are are actually engaged in rather crude epidemiological analysis. This may be useful in looking at patterns of change at societal level, but actually says very little about the management of individuals as individuals or small groups. Its application to people management can in fact be quite dangerous.


I also get depressed at the implicit ageism in the discussion.

At any time, you want to (or should want to) appoint the best person to the job regardless of whether they are 22 or 62. Once you conclude that any age group cannot do a job simply because of age, then you have already moved away from the idea of promotion on individual merit.

Here organisational thinking - public and private - is lagging behind social change at a number of different levels. But I think that further comment here should wait until another post because of the size of the topic!

On Choice, Family Roles and Gender

On a linked question, I have been thinking about issues associated with choice, gender and family roles. This topic, itself mildly depressing at times, is presently a hot one or, at least, a popular one measured by it current prominence on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

The Legal Soapbox had a heartfelt post here entitled "Motherhood and career - what is the answer" on the problem of choice between these two. She concluded: "Perhaps we should look even further outside the square and give women even more of a choice."

I think that she is right, although as someone who has had the primary child care role in recent years I would make it less gender specific, recognising that women do face specific problems because of child birth.

Driven in part by my own personal experience, as well as my musings about my daughters, I think that we need to look at giving people more help in planning and managing their career over a more complicated working life.

Everything at the moment is bitsy and disconnected. Worse, the way our systems - at least in Australia - are evolving acts to reduce flexibility. One example on both, just to make the point.

As with many countries, Australia faces a demographic problem because of an aging population, a problem that is going to bite progressively harder over the next thirty years. To manage this, we want to increase the birth rate and the also the participation rate. By participation rate I simply mean the proportion of the population in the work force.

There is a fundamental conflict between these two. More babies, lower participation. Higher participation, fewer babies. This conflict needs to be managed in some coherent way.

Education and training is an example of the second, reduced flexibility.

In an earlier post - Australia's Universities - a personal Mea Culpa - I spoke of the economic underpinnings of the current education fees and funding arrangements. Essentially, the HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) fee was intended to capture part of the income benefit flowing to the individual from higher education, while the Government subsidy reflected the broader economic benefit flowing to the economy. I also suggested that these two were now out of kilter, meaning fewer students than we really needed.

In this discussion, I did not address the age question. Quite simply, the older you are, the less the potential economic benefit you get from further education simply because of a shorter remaining working life. So as the costs, direct and indirect, of university education have increased, the proportion of older people studying has declined. The outcome is reduced flexibility.

I will give a second, smaller, but important example.

The Howard Government has replaced the old CES (Commonwealth Employment Service) with the Job Network. Government policy here has a particular stated policy focus on the longer term unemployed. This is praiseworthy. But did you know that access to Job Network consultants is restricted to those on benefits? That is, it is really designed to get people off benefits.

Because the income level for benefits is so low, this restriction effectively rules out a very significant proportion of the population. It bites hardest for older long term middle class unemployed since this group is most likely to have a partner working. This group is also often the one in most need of help given current job market structures.

In all this, there is in fact a simple mechanism that can be used to analyse and integrate public policy responses, although I have not seen it used. That mechanism is the individual and family life cycle. The process involved is simple:

1. Prepare two flow charts, one setting out the individual life cycle, the second the family life cycle.

2. Link existing policies and programs to those two flow charts.

3. Then look for conflicts and gaps.

Return of Jack

In the midst of all these sometimes depressing musings there was a major plus.

Jack is our original and favourite cat. I don't have a photo, but will get one and put it up on the blog. He is a lovely boy in terms of personality and appearance. He is also a wanderer.

Last year he vanished for weeks, finally to be found (he is micro-chipped) in a pound no less than 6k from here. He came back and then vanished again. Yesterday the local vet rang us to say that he had been brought in. He had adopted a nearby (three blocks away) family who wanted to keep him, but were also concerned about ownership. Now he is back.

He may well wander again. But it's nice to have him home. The only problem is that there is now another family (there may well be more) in love with him too. So we may have to share!


Legal Eagle said...

Yes, I agree, Jim, ageism is a major problem in today's workplace. My father is an intelligent man, capable of giving a lot to a company or society in general, but he has been pigeonholed as "too old". I would have thought 30+ years in industry would have counted as a plus, not a negative.

I also hate the way in which HR makes pigeonhole categories: "Generation Y" or whoever. You have to take each person as they come, not as part of a generalisation.

Nevertheless, I have noticed differences in the students at university (as compared to in my day). I have noticed that there is a greater proportion of students who not willing to use their own initiative - they want it delivered up "on a plate" because they are paying for the privilege. That's not to say everyone is like that, but the proportion is greater than it was in my day.

Jim Belshaw said...

LE, from the sound your Dad is certainly another example of ageism.

Each generation is different. You have captured a key point re student attitudes. My sister in law teaches in the NSW TAFE system, and has some virulent comments on changing student attitudes.

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