Discovering value in people
We all know that young people today – the so-called Generation Next – are different from what we’ve been used to, but I’m not sure we know why they’re different or how we can come to terms with those differences. Studies of society, through the millennia, have shown that people do change, albeit very gradually, but in the last twenty years we appear to have experienced a major shift.
Is it real and impactful? If it is, what can we possibly do about it?
Consider young children have always been encouraged to cultivate ‘sandbox values’ regardless of culture, ethnicity, gender and economic differences. These are the rules that are impressed on young children as they learn to play together.
As soon as a child is old enough to understand there are consequences to actions and behaviors, parents begin, overtly and subtly, to program the child’s value systems. Each child is taught to smile and play nicely, to be prompt, to look and to do his/her best, to obey the rules, tell the truth and to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. This programming starts shortly after birth and progresses incrementally until the child is ready for school. At this point both teachers and peers will begin to influence the child’s values, however using a different set of basic criteria.
Parents tend to focus on health, happiness and high self-esteem; teachers are pressured to emphasize obedience, academic excellence and safety. All this is good as far as it goes but it doesn’t do much to advance those essential qualities that will lead to success in the workplace. Research by the noted child development expert and author, Eric Chester, for his book “Reviving Work Ethic” indicates that today’s employers are searching for;
Positive, enthusiastic people who show up for work on time, who are dressed and prepared properly, who go out of their way to add value and do more than is required of them, who are honest, who will play by the rules and who will give cheerful, friendly service regardless of the situation.
While this is founded upon the same lessons that all children are taught, it isn’t enough to guarantee the kind of personal contribution that employers actually expect from their employees. The definition above is far too passive to create real value through the organization and it is that real value that leads to survival and enduring success. In addition, Generation Next people – those born between 1985 and 1995 and just now entering the workforce - have a different perspective from those who went before. This is because they are, and always have been, ‘connected’; they do not know any other reality than instant information and immediate communication. Most of their personal values have been formed through assimilation rather than by experiential/empirical means – this is significant for the organization. The bottom line is that it is now the responsibility of the organization’s leaders to initiate and sustain the development of those vital and proactive values that constitute a sound work ethic. It doesn’t come as part of the package anymore.
According to Eric Chester, a proper work ethic is knowing what to do and doing it. It is marked by a person’s positive attitude, reliability, professionalism, initiative, respect, integrity and gratitude. These are non-negotiable attributes or characteristics.
This is our challenge. It isn’t enough for young people to know what to do – cognizance; they have to learn and acquire the will to actually do it – compliance.
Only when knowledge and action are bridged by the specified characteristics will individual and organizational success follow. So let’s take a closer look at each of the seven ‘virtues’:
- A Positive attitude demonstrates optimism, enthusiasm, resiliency and openness
- Reliability includes dependability, predictability, persistence and self-discipline
- Professionalism is submitting to external codes, self-presentation and social maturity
- Initiative is awareness of risks/consequences, courage, engagement and responsibility
- Respect comes from other awareness, empathy, accessibility and authenticity.
- Integrity means commitment to higher standards, trustworthiness and consistency
- Gratitude is born of appreciation, humility, understanding and courtesy.
So how can we as business leaders instill all these desirable attributes in our evolving workforce? In short, we must demonstrate them!
Start by practicing each characteristic in everything you do. Next, insist that the seven attributes are the essential qualifications for all leadership and managerial positions in your organization with immediate, high impact consequences for non-compliance. Identify those individuals among your present staff members who demonstrate each and any of the seven characteristics better than average and appoint them as role models. Give these role models responsibility for guiding others, especially new staff, treating them as organizational ‘heroes’. Tell their stories often and positively; reinforce them whenever you can and reward them with recognition if nothing else.
If you do this consistently and definitively for a few months you will see a positive change in the workplace such as you’ve never seen before.
I challenge you! Try this for yourself and then share your experiences with us through this blog.
About the Author: David Huggins, MASc, FIoD, CMS is an experienced behavioral scientist and executive coach who’s dedicated to bringing out the best in individuals and groups. His insights and direct contributions have taken business leaders to elevated dimensions in performance. He can be reached through his websites at www.andros.org and www.polarisprogram.com