Young, talented employees are challenging traditional organizational structures and cultures as never before.

The Industrial Age was about producing and owning stuff. The Digital Age is about shaping and using stuff.

Only 21 percent of employees agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work, according to a 2017 Gallup State of the American Workplace report. Across all regions of the world, employees who said they are “not engaged” and “actively disengaged” outnumber those who are “actively engaged,” according to a UN World Happiness Report, published in 2017. In some regions, disengagement reaches 70 percent.

This is not surprising. Not only are organizations not adapting to the Digital Age, many are reinforcing the very structures that feed disengagement. In a very interesting article championing constructive disobedience, Paul Taylor notes that:

  • Organizational complexity has gone up six-fold since 1955. The number of procedures and rules to fight the same complexity has seen a 35-fold increase (Joost Minnaar and Pim de Morree)
  • In the most complicated organizations, managers spend more than 40 percent of their time writing reports, and between 30 percent and 60 percent of their time on meetings
  • US managerial workforce has grown by 90 percent. In the UK the employment share of managers and supervisors increased to 16 percent in 2015 (Gary Hamel)

More managers and more bureaucracy equals more organizational rot and employee disengagement. Having found themselves in a hole, traditional organizations have thrown the shovel out and bought themselves a digger.

“Today’s young employees are no longer happy with the mere fact of being able to produce stuff,” Wim Vanryckeghem, a manager at Euroconsumers wrote to me recently in an email. “And, they have no or little trust in traditionally set up organizations built too much on apathy and loyalty. Prepare to answer their frequent 'Why?'”

Learning Opportunities

Wim states that young employees want the organization to have a real vision and a soul. They want to work in a “collective intelligence” environment and a leadership from below culture, which is essentially the opposite of the traditional management setup.

A key issue that Wim points out is that young employees want “to get input on how the things they worked on are appreciated/depreciated by the customers or colleagues.” This is a crucial point.

As societies, we have shifted our focus away from owning the thing to using the thing in order to achieve an experience. It not enough for us to produce things either. We need to see how they are being used. We need to experience the experience others are having as they use the things we have created.

This is the vital feedback that will allow us to grow both professionally and personally. There is no greater satisfaction than to know that what you produce is used and useful. There is no deeper learning than to observe use, make a change and see if that change improves use. This feedback based on use is at the heart of customer and employee experience. There is no better way to make an employee feel happier than to show them that what they have done has made a customer or another employee happier.

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