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New Management Styles for a Recovering Economy

New Management Styles for a Recovering Economy

By: John Rossheim

Executives, managers and staff of all career stages weathered the great recession of 2007-2009 in different ways. Managers, whether pressured by sagging sales or profit-hungry stockholders, have engaged in round after round of cost-cutting, adversely impacting many employees.

But given an impressive accumulation of economic gains in the mid-2010s, it’s time for company veterans to take another look at how they’re managing people in a long-running recovering. Fifteen years into this not-so-new millennium, what’s the key to cultivating productive employees and a satisfied staff?

While employers must learn to manage their Millennial employees, the needs of these maturing employees turn out not to be so different from other generations of workers.  

It's time to listen. Managers and executives who lack listening skills and ignore their employees run the risk of losing them – and the capital that their institutional knowledge represents.

“I’ve worked with a big benefits company that’s finding their employees are speaking up more,” says Frank Faeth, principal at Faeth Executive Coaching.  “Because with the improved economy, they have more job opportunities.”

Says Joan Kuhl, founder of consulting firm Why Millennials Matter: “Managers can start with listening, in one-on-one talks, to find out an employee’s thoughts on the work, on what the business can be doing better. It’s also important to huddle more, to bring the team together.”
Millennials matter, more and more. Both Gen Xer and Boomer executives need to recognize that, however different Millennial work attitudes  may be toward work, they are the generation that’s coming into power.

“Some older managers have a hugely dismissive attitude toward Millennials and all younger workers,” says Kuhl. “Managers need to know Millennials will become the largest segment of the workforce, so we have to help them be as productive as possible. We need to tell elder employees, ‘Millennials’ success is important for your legacy.’ And to be heard, you have to understand how each generation best likes to receive information.”

Keep in mind that your various layers of your multigenerational workforce require a unique approach to career planning.

Let Millennials work to their strong suit. While some Millennials may require some help filling a gap in their soft skills, many Gen Y employees bring many valuable perspectives to the office; senior managers who fail to recognize and act on these insights are overlooking a competitive advantage.

“In a previous role at a traditional manufacturer, I asked some Millennials to redesign our office space,” says Dan Hawkins, president of Summit Leadership Partners. “They did, with a hotel set-up and desks and filing cabinets on wheels — and productivity went up exponentially.”

Mentor new hires on company culture. A well-structured mentoring program can be a great way to build bridges between company veterans and new hires who all experienced the recession in their own ways.

“Employees who have been with the company longer are a product of its culture,” says Hawkins. “But the new person won’t have a true feel for the culture, and they may do things that are countercultural. Maybe in meetings a new employee will just throw out ideas — until he discovers that the company’s culture is to wait until you’re asked to speak.”

Millennials are apt to welcome coaching on how to work with the company's culture — whereas an old-schooler’s cold shoulder could nudge the younger generation to cruise job postings over lunch.

Nasty managers can hurt the workforce bottom line: productivity. For managers who ran roughshod over hunkered-down staff during the financial crisis, it’s time for change in leadership style.

“Abrasive executives get found out,” says Faeth. “Employees will go to HR and say, ‘You may not know this, but Joe is really abrasive.’ But there are not a lot of HR managers who have the guts to say that this exec needs help — unless the behavior is leading to lawsuits. Still, if you’re being mistreated at work, you’re unproductive.”

Disgruntled Millennials can be quick to quit. Boomers and Xers may also find that their younger reports are less averse to the risk of abrupt changes in their careers. “Millennials are far less likely to put up with abrasive managers than Xers and Boomers,” says Faeth. “It’s so important for Millennials to like what they do. They may not speak up; they’re more likely than older workers to just leave.”

Managing diversity is a must. Multiple generations aren’t the only dimension of diversity that executives must face anew as the economy perks up. “Companies say they want diversity and fresh thinking, but people not accustomed to that have a very difficult time,” says Hawkins. “The leader’s role is to understand that people are not the same, whether the differences are generational or have to do with race or gender.”