Generation F goes to work

Although perhaps not officially a “generation”, the term Generation F is being used to describe the wave of people entering the workforce who have grown up with social networks and Facebook in particular.  There’s been a lot of written about these Millennials (the official term) and their attitudes to work but the impact that social networking has had on this group is a game-changer.

Business author, Gary Hamel, first highlighted the traits of Generation F in a Wall Street Journal blog post called The Facebook Generation vs the Fortune 500.  His view is that Generation F will expect their working environment to mirror their online environment – this includes access to information, ease of networking, lack of hierarchy, etc.  Here’s his list in more detail:

  1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.  If you exist in the ultimate democracy that is the web, then ideas should compete independent from who created them, they all have merit and should be treated equally.
  2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.  It’s what you can do and the actions you actually take, not where you went to school and what you have been trained to do.  Think of citizen journalism, some amazingly creative short films, new models for education, etc.
  3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.  It’s not enough to have a flat organisational structure, you also need to allow new groups to form, naturally.. like they do online.  There is a strong requirement for self-managed teams with this group.
  4. Leaders serve rather than preside.  Get out of people’s way.  The Theory X style of command and control will not work with this group.. they are wired to be creative, to work in teams, and they are wired to resist authoritative power.  Servant leadership – where you ensure that your people have what they need to do their job, is generally a far superior method in any event.
  5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.  You can lead a horse to water..  this will be one of the greatest frustrations for managers.  Gary discusses how life for this group is “opt-in” and that’s how they will expect their working life to also exist.  Intrinsic rewards / motivation will be the key to getting this right (see below).
  6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.  As with the point above on tasks, they will work with the people who they want to work with.. who inspire them, who make life interesting.  More can be achieved by allowing this network to form on its own – with a strong vision/sense of purpose to guide them.
  7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.  The extension of a self-defining team is that membership to that team must be opt-in and not forced – this will make the teams much stronger and the leaders of those teams more capable (they will be the natural leaders and the Peter Principle may finally see its day).
  8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.  This is important at all levels of the business.  The company must run an open books policy on finances, strategy, planning.  This is what Generation F will expect.  But you will also see less empire building around knowledge – knowledge of processes, industry, etc.  This group are used to sharing everything about their lives with everyone else and this won’t stop at work.
  9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.  The wisdoms of crowds.  This generation use their networks and extended networks to help them make better decisions – movies, restaurants, cars, universities.. jobs.  The smart companies will harness this power internally and will see a real step change in performance.
  10. Users can veto most policy decisions.  Part of the Servant Leadership ethos is to ensure that your staff have whatever they need to do their job and do it well.  The natural extension of this is to ensure that they have a say in the direction they’re are heading.
  11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.  People want to be great at their job and to be recognised for being so.. this group wants to be good but they also want to be a part of something bigger.  Its more important than ever to be able to establish and communicate a solid purpose and “why” you, as an organisation, exist.
  12. Hackers are heroes. Gary is referring here to those that challenge the status quo.  This generation admire “rabble-rousers” and you need to understand this in how you expect your organisation to run.
It’s amazing to me to see the effect that social networking has had on society in such a short amount of time.  Your business will start to feel these effects sooner rather than later and you really need to understand [and accept] the changing beliefs of your workforce.  This will mean changing your working practices.. if you want to get the most out of your employees over the next five plus years, then you will need to adapt.