Corporate culture shift: Change is necessary to attract the next generation

“We’d like to talk with you about helping us with our culture. We have to change it.”

The catalyst for this executive’s call? A new employer coming to town, poised to lure away their workforce. The employee engagement results are not looking good at the moment, and they are ready to step to action to begin advancing their culture.

“I’ve been here for 30 years, and I’ll tell you…our culture is fine.”

The catalyst for this executive’s statement? Well, I might call it “not really paying attention.” There is a cliff ahead.

Let’s talk about change, specifically…to change or not to change.

In 2006, Marshall Goldsmith wrote “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” Success Delusion (as he calls it) leads people to resist change. We see this being a particular risk of the seasoned baby boomer leaders who are reflecting on their 30-year career and who are also the authors of the (current) business model.

In 2009, Jeff Joerres, CEO of Manpower Group, spoke to a group of Marquette alumni about the evolution of the workplace. One of the points he talked about was this: “The individual rules.” (Seriously, did you just roll your eyes?) He briefly shared his experience: “I worked at a company for a very long time. They took care of me. Young workers today are saying, ‘I don’t want to be taken care of. I don’t trust you.'”

Don’t misinterpret the trust comment. Essentially, they are saying, “Listen, we know the days of two-way, unspoken, long-time job loyalty are gone. That’s not what we’re looking for, and we’re smart enough to know that you can say good bye to us at any time….just like you did with our parents. What we do want, however, is to be valued, to be given meaningful work, to be invested in, to have a leader who leads us, to work hard, to receive feedback (both good and bad), to have an opportunity for advancement, to have the opportunity to contribute to the world, to feel engaged in the process and to have the opportunity to have a life at the same time. This is what is exciting to us. And, because life is short, at the end of the day, if my individual preferences are not being taken into consideration (fully understanding that some will be met and some will not), I may likely go elsewhere.”

Case in point: I had a conversation with a Milwaukee-area executive just a few days ago who used these words, “Our high-potential leader who is a successor to a higher level in this company left our organization so that he can have a life.” This guy is not a slacker. This is a guy who basically said, “Listen, I want to have dinner with my family occasionally.”

Let’s reflect back on the second opening example I shared: “Our culture is fine.” A better comment could be: “Our culture has been fine up to this point, at least for the 30 years I’ve been here. It appears, however, that this culture will not be appealing to the new workforce, at least not enough so that we will be able to attract the number of employees we will need over the years and retain them.” Joerres nailed it when he made the following statement: “The contemporary mindset will ask, ‘What can we do to remain competitive in the future world of work?'”

In 2010, Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd wrote “The 2020 Workplace.” In this book, “the 2020 workplace” means one that provides an intensely personalized, social experience to attract, develop, and engage employees across all generations and geographies. The organizations that create a competitive advantage in the 2020 workplace will do so by instituting innovative human resource practices. More than ever, these practices will help employees feel that they are connected with as people…people with unique dreams, preferences and expectations that someone even cares about.

In 2001, Ken Robinson wrote a book titled “Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.” He shared that our corporate cultures are not keeping pace with changing human systems. We have been seeing this in spades over the past handful of years. There is still so much heal digging in taking place around the preservations of our corporate cultures.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming has shared much wisdom with us. One of my favorites is, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

Deming also said, “We are here to make another world.”

Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Impact Consulting Group LLC and Living As A Leader, a Brookfield-based leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. You may send Aleta your ‘Leading Generation Y’ question to Also, visit

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