I’ll admit it, I am part of the “older” generation and I know this because the music is too loud and just the idea of staying up all night makes me want a nap. That being said, when I brag about my kids I am always surprised when someone challenges me with “You have teenagers and you LIKE your kids?” Youth, as seen from the other side of the generation gap, can look incomprehensible and the young recruits joining our organizations come complete with fully integrated personal electronic devices that connect them to the world in ways that seem like science fiction.
My generation likes to wax poetic about the “good old days” when curfews were marked by streetlights and “serious” vandalism involved toilet paper. A lot has changed since then and things are continuing to change at an increasing pace. The students of today are preparing for their future. That future includes industries and skills that do not yet exist and this can be a real challenge for manufacturing. There are more work options available now than were twenty, or (um) thirty years ago. The rules have changed, so much so that one could argue that there are no more rules and without guidance and direction it is easy to languish at the crossroads. No longer is a skilled workforce expected to align with a single company for their career. Although employees may desire long-term employment, the expectation that such a thing still exists is pretty low. Employees get disillusioned with their company, and companies become disillusioned with their employees. The downside of “at will” employment is that always being on the lookout for the next opportunity takes energy away from the work at hand.
Working with organizational effectiveness has lately found me walking the halls of my local high school. Like many places in the business world, they too have had a change in leadership and the new Principal has infused the campus with an inspiring vision of what they can and will become. Initially skeptical, students, faculty, staff, and parents are being drawn in by the excitement and things are happening. There are differences between public education and the corporate work environment. In the corporate world, changing the business too often translates to changing the people. At a public high school, the kids are there for four years regardless of whether they like the new principal or not. The cool part then, is getting everyone to work together knowing that there is no other option.
Here is the thing: it is easy to leave. It is hard to stay and work through the rough places. Building a team isn’t about assembling the perfect parts. Building a team is about working with the parts you have to do stuff no one part could do alone. I vote for teams.
One of the challenges at the high school is engaging students in the decision making process. Contrary to the top-down model so often used in business, the new principal flipped the decision making upside down. Through the establishment of a student leadership council and Principal’s cabinet, students are given a powerful and deciding voice in how their school is run. If this type of management style makes you scoff in distain, perhaps there is something to learn from the kids.
For this new leadership style to be successful, the students need the strategies and skills for effective group collaboration. Using the tools and techniques that Empowered Performance offers business clients, I facilitated a workshop to give the students tools for teamwork and group collaboration. Truth be told, I learned as much as they did.
The biggest concern of the students is that they simply want to be wanted. These teens are full of ideas, they want to be heard, and they are willing to work hard to make their ideas a reality. These are not idealistic dreamers, they know it will be hard and the work will require no less than everything they can bring to the table and probably more. Raised during a time of economic uncertainty this generation places a high value on relationship. It is no surprise then that they were easily able to stay engaged in a session to define how they will work together as a group. Over the course of three hours these teens developed a code of conduct. When they finally reach a consensus, they started with a fresh sheet of paper, wrote the final version, and read it aloud:
“With passion, respect, integrity and determination we will be open-minded, accepting, and vulnerable risk-takers who act with deliberance and purpose.”
Hearing the complete final version, one student leaned back and said “Wow. Imagine what it would be like of the whole school acted like this.”
What the business world can learn from the students is that people want to be engaged, to feel as if they are a part of something greater than themselves, and to find meaning and purpose through community. These teens are only four to eight years away from entering the workforce and their views are not that different from the employees you already have.
The future depends upon the youth – we are in good hands, but are we ready?