(This column continues a series begun last year, reflecting on issues of people and work.) Managers today must deal with workforces that are demographically diverse. To younger workers, many significant events in the lives of their supervisors and managers seem like ancient history. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King are events they read about in a history book. The term "winding a watch" has no meaning for them in this battery-powered age. Managers born in the middle of the 20th century lived through the boom of the 1960s and the inflationary 1970s, when interest rates soared to double-digit levels. New workforce entrants barely understand the term "runaway inflation." Technology comes naturally to them, while older, technophobic managers often can't cope with the avalanche of innovations. Personal life choices weigh more heavily with new workers than with prior generations. In dealing with the workforce of the 21st century, managers should keep a couple of rules in mind:
- The first rule: Judge people, as well as leaders, on their competence, character, and courage -- not on the color of their skin, country of origin, age, or sex. In many cases, older workers will find themselves reporting to managers who are a generation younger. The new workers (or managers) may be female or have African, Asian, or Hispanic heritages. Many are immigrants whose ethnicity is evident from their physical appearance -- unlike earlier waves of Caucasian immigrants whose features did not readily identify their nationality, even if their language did. A worker's country of origin is relevant only because it likely has contributed to his or her values. The values of the new workforce differ widely, and their perceptions of leadership may be different, too. In time, sociologists will develop theories on how to lead this new generation of workers, but that guidance may come too late. We must deal with these issues now, and determine what these changes mean for managers and supervisors.
- The second rule: Learn all about computers, communication devices, and new technology -- their uses, shortcomings, and potential -- or get left behind.