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Rick Lash is the national director of the leadership and talent practice for Hay Group in Canada.
Rick Lash is the national director of the leadership and talent practice for Hay Group in Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Millennials put the ‘I’ in team Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Last month, I was invited to participate in a conference at GE Software’s remarkable lab in San Ramon, Calif., with leaders from some of the world’s top companies.

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Talent from global innovators including Google, IBM, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rio Tinto were there to discuss the rapidly changing digital landscape and what implications it holds for the world.

While the conference highlighted the rapid advance of technology, it also shone a spotlight on fascinating changes in the work force that have come about as a result of globalization.

Whether they were from a tech firm or a mining company, leaders shared a common experience – the young recruits joining their organizations have very different career goals and attitudes toward work than the generations that came before them.

It was clear from the conversations among the group that the concept of a strictly nine-to-five job in certain circles is becoming archaic. Many millennials want more freedom to meld their work lives around their personal lives. They’re placing more of a premium on the meaning of their work and the way it fits into the “right” lifestyle, rather than on their paycheques alone.

The anecdotal evidence from the business leaders at the GE conference is consistent with one of the key trends – individualization – identified in our recently published book, Leadership 2030: The Six Megatrends You Need to Understand to Lead Your Company in the Future.

The world is not only globalizing, it’s individualizing. As organizations have been moving from mass production to mass customization to meet the demands of a market defined by individuals, so too are organizations recognizing that they need to adapt to meet the unique needs and expectations of employees who want and expect to be treated as individuals.

Careers play an increasingly important role in the quest for self-fulfillment and self-expression, a shift that is driving greater convergence between private and working lives and a desire by individuals to integrate personal and professional goals.

As we discussed at the conference in California, conventional career decision-making criteria such as pay, benefits and prospects for promotion are being treated as givens – basic table stakes. Instead, employees want to feel they’re engaged in work that is meaningful to their personal goals and that they are in some way making a difference in the work they do. They want a good balance of career and personal life. They want personal development, opportunities for self-expression and social recognition.

But this isn’t how many companies like to think. Individualization can be at odds with the sometimes inflexible structure and common purpose that companies want at their foundation. Individualization can create headaches for the bureaucracies that large organizations need to have in order to function.

So how do businesses hang on to their talent when each individual has an agenda of his or her own?

In short, they need to learn to adapt to the inner market – their employees – as effectively as they adapt to their customers.

Organizations will need more flexible structures that are custom-tailored to the individual values and interests of their employees. They’ll need to fundamentally redesign work processes and procedures to accommodate their personal and professional lives. For example, offering sabbaticals or external study, child care or flexible work arrangements. Don’t tell workers they have to give up their cellphones to use the approved company technology. Companies need to let employees use their own technology for both business and personal needs. And employees are demanding the flexibility to do work on their own time. They’re not wrong. The world has evolved. It’s no longer about time put in at the office; it’s about the results one achieves no matter where the work is done (within limits, of course).

In this environment, the traditional role of business leaders will also change dramatically. Leaders need to have superb emotional intelligence – the ability to engage and facilitate, to drive transformation and build common purpose across increasingly diverse groups of people and across the organization, rather than just managing performance and rewarding hard work.

The leader of the future will need to balance the roles of boss, mediator and coach, allowing teams more freedom and autonomy, while securing their commitment and keeping them focused on team and corporate objectives.

Organizations and their leaders, need to be ‘nimble giants’ – seeing beyond the horizon and responding to latest cultural and social trends, listening carefully to the diversity of employee needs and rapidly adapting policies to keep staff engaged and happy while creating a stable foundation that ensures the organization will have the talent it needs for the future.

Rick Lash is the national director of the leadership and talent practice for Hay Group (@HayGroup) in Canada, the company behind Leadership 2030: The Six Megatrends You Need to Understand to Lead Your Company in the Future.

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