"We have to stop putting sand where we need oil, sugar where
we need petrol." JP Rangaswami
Let's face it, the recession has been a wake up call for many businesses. If it hasn't, it should've been. The key challenge for many organisations of-course is to understand how much of the damage that has been wreaked is cyclical (the result of market downturn), and how much is structural (the result of markets that have changed forever). There's something else too. Another big challenge for big business that is rarely spoken about. A quiet revolution.
When I talked about the need for big business to get a whole lot more agile in its philosophy as well as it's working practices, I linked to a Paul Graham essay in which he proposes that instead of organisational success being all about economies of scale and discipline as it has been for much of history, it is the increase in speed attainable through small groups that is beginning to trump the advantages of size. Large organisations, he says, will start to do worse now because:
"...for the first time in history they're no longer getting the best people. An ambitious kid graduating from college now doesn't want to work for a big company. They want to work for the hot startup that's rapidly growing into one. If they're really ambitious, they want to start it."
If small, smart, agile start-ups have become the most progressive places and offer the best and broadest opportunities, then they will get the best people.
The reality is that organisations are now having to appeal to an audience of potential employees with very different ambitions and expectations. In his excellent post on The Facebookisation of The Enterprise, JP Rangaswami talks about an enterprise world where the workers choose their own phone, their own laptop, their own operating system. A world where the workers' identity is independent of the company they work for, where their network of relationships describe the people that they actually spend time with, where their 'company' profile looks the same as their 'web' profile. A world where you did the job you needed to do rather than the one you were just told to do. A world where the IT, HR and Finance functions had ceded control of the device, the profile, and job description. His point is that for 'Generation M' (multimedia, multitasking, mobile generation, born post 1982) "they don't have to imagine any of this. It is how they live their lives. And if we want access to their talent, we need to change".
These are the kind of norms (for what he alternatively calls the 'Net Generation') that Don Tapscott identifies as prizing freedom, customisation, collaboration, integrity, scrutiny, speed, fun and constant innovation. These expectations are universal, as applicable to institutions and corporations as they are to life. When I began my career, it was all about joining a big corporate and working hard to steadily gain more responsibility. Now, as Paul Graham says, it's not so much about people wanting to climb the corporate ladder as about those who are growing the ladder beneath them.
What many businesses forget is that the web is empowering of individuals not organisations. In his 4A's talk, Vivaki's Rishad Tobaccowala talked about the challenge the ad industry faces in attracting the best talent. Talent, he said, is very scalable: "Companies with a disproportionate share of talent win. Industries that attract a disproportionate share of talent win…The talent we most need are builders, sculptors, painters. Folks who create and not just manage."
And yet I see, in many of the young people I meet, a generation who are very aware of the possibilities of technology because they live it every day. Who realise that the best jobs are often filled not by agencies or advertisements but by word of mouth. Who recognise that what happens when a prospective employer Googles your name is important. Who build their own value. Who interview planning directors for their blogs. Who create stuff online. Who generate online portfolios. Who present their experience in new ways. Who have a real belief that anything is possible. Who want to work for principled, purposeful companies (the kind of companies that would do this). Who want to work for the companies that do the best work. The ones that innovate. That are not afraid to change. That grow their careers and their skills as they grow. The companies that are not about status, but about being the best you can be. The companies that are not about being corporate, but about being human.
We spend a lot of time endeavouring to understand young audiences, their attitude to advertising, how they consume media, and very little time applying that understanding to help shape our organisations into desirable places for them to work. Right now, companies have the luxury of a poor jobs market but for how long? If the industry is serious about wanting to attract developers, creative technologists, the people who will build the future, I think it needs to change. This generation, far more than any before it, have the tools to take control of their own careers and their own learning, and they are doing just that. If you don't believe me, watch this:
HT to Johnnie for links used in this piece.