Your Company's Direction
Today's blog post comes from Frank Mulligan, a software developer. Edited for clarity and length.
In an Op-Ed column in the New York Times, David Brooks tackles the notion of an emerging group in the United States that he refers to as the formerly middle class. This is a vast swathe of unhappy professionals who, in their halycon days (last month), would consume lattes, IPods and SUVs with the reckless abandon of a cashed out dot com millionaire. They now find that what they had become to believe were commodities have become luxuries, and for some, completely out of reach of their pocketbooks. This is difficult to swallow, as Brooks notes[.] Those individuals are in your office, and they need direction. Financial Shock Whatever mental suffering we see coming from Americans that have lost their cherished middle class status,[...] They were just at the finishing tape, and had the tape pulled away at the last moment. These people need more than direction; they need T-L-C (tender loving care). The office impact will be significant. As Brooks says [...] Americans will learn to live without material extravagances. They’ll simplify their lives. They’ll rediscover what really matters: home, friends and family. [T]he slowdown here is going to have a very depressing effect on morale and productivity in offices and factories[...] Changing your life like this is not so easy when the locus of control is external to your personality. American[s] talk their own talk, and walk their own walk. [...] When you are not sure how your current direction came about, who do you turn to for advice about reversing the direction of your life? Over the past few decades, the professionals in your office have lived better lives as salaries have grown, and massive amounts of infrastructure has been built to move them around in comfort. This quality of life improvement has been very real[.] Most of your staff know nothing but good times morphing into even better times morphing into a bright future. Just getting an understanding of the fallout from an economic downturn will be a challenge for them. [...] Growing Up, Fast!
Paradoxically, the solution is for you to take the lead and make the choices for them. Expecting the ‘child’ to grow up is not an option here because there is not enough time. This is a generation that brings Mom, Dad or their girlfriend to interview … In the current crisis their natural tendency will be a bit schizophrenic. Most will lay the blame on others, because they don’t actually feel the sense of responsibility commensurate with their age. They have never had the chance to. Others will heap the responsibility for everything on themselves, even for things that are clearly not down to them. These are the small minority who feel the weight of the 6 people above them, 2 parents and 4 grandparents. (The worst expression of this are the young people who will not give their seat to an old lady on the bus, on the basis that not all old ladies are frail, and that all young people have three generations to take care of. Fortunately, they are still on the fringe.) Job satisfaction is likely to go through the floor because [...] the company is seen as a substitute family, with the boss as substitute parent. From their point of view their parent has made made a wrong choice regarding their future, so the parent will have to find a new direction, and fix the problem. Now!. What is needed is a clear direction from HR; one that is derived from the Mission and Objectives of the company, and linked down to strategies that managers feel will get the company out of the current funk. From this you can derive specific tasks that this generation is actually capable of undertaking themselves. Each task would underpin one of the strategies. A good, but risky, stretch goal would be for you to ask your team to identify the specific tasks that can support the strategies that the company wants to implement. This would bring them into the strategy circle but it is likely to be the first time they have ever been there. Don’t expect too much. Take the lead, and you won’t be disappointed.