Dear HR Leader: It’s Time to Pass the Baton to a New Generation

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Mar 17, 2015

It first hit me about 8 months ago at a SHRM Thought Leaders retreat in San Diego with 125 senior HR leaders (mostly CHRO’s and heads of function) and academics in a breakout room discussing leadership and specifically managing Gen Y employees.

There were several comments about work ethic and opinions tossed about the room. Then I raised my hand and spoke up.

I said, “How can a room full of 40 and 50 somethings pass judgement on what is needed for the next generation without their contribution?” There were no heads of HR under the age of 33 in the room.

More generational bias

The room went silent. Biases and long-held beliefs were being challenged by one of the group. It felt like HR sacrilege until China Gorman (the CEO of Great Place to Work and former COO of SHRM), echoed my comment and added that maybe we were seeing this through the wrong lens.

She went on to say we need to see it from a 20-somethings perspective. Enlighted conversation ensued well into the cocktail hour. I had struck a nerve, or maybe I should say, I pinched it.

Fast forward to this past week. I attended a local CHRO-only networking dinner with 20 heads of HR from medium and large organizations based in New York City. Again, the topic of early career individuals came up, and wouldn’t you know it, the same viewpoints and biases came spewing out of at least a half-dozen of the attendees.

Comments like “they don’t work hard” abounded. And, “they don’t like authority or structure.” Nothing could be further from the truth with my own organization’s almost entirely Millennial population.  This conversation pinched my own nerve, and I spoke up stating that we have it all wrong.

My team, and my entire organization, puts in routine 10-12 hour days, reads email 24/7, and will do projects on the weekend or well into the night without a peep of complaining. They are results focused and they like some structure as long as it does not impede progress. They go to the person that can get the answers or needed information the quickest by passing organizational chart reporting structures and cutting layers out of the process of doing work.

What are we doing with that “seat at the table?”

We (existing HR leaders) are trying to perpetuate work environments that meant something to us 10 years ago, but have little meaning to the next generation we’re dealing with today. And, we are the HR leaders deciding what gets put on the strategic agenda and what gets budgeted for. It’s like a carnivore ordering steak for a group of vegans for dinner.

If we are doing it wrong, then how will it ever evolve and catch up to what other functions have been doing for years? In fact, in many ways we are responsible for our own profession’s lack of evolution over the past decade.

We are just to damn comfortable and set in our ways. We got the “seat at the table” a while ago, and now we are just ordering the wrong choices.

Now, I am not advocating that we step down or become completely socialist in our day-to-day approaches. Certainly there are many HR leaders taking bold steps to move the profession forward.

What I AM advocating for is to develop young HR leaders quickly and leverage their insights and creativity to a much larger scale. We need to practice inclusion of our own staffs, not just preach it to the rest of the organization.

We need younger blood, and sooner than later

At Success Academy, where I currently head the HR/Talent function, I have 11 individuals in HR/Talent management roles. All are at minimum 18 years my junior and most are 20-2 5 years younger. They are smart, driven, creative, tech savvy– and they get it.

They want to do things differently and they know better than I, what the population wants and more importantly needs to be successful in a new world of work.

The entire HR profession needs folks like my HR team in leadership roles, and they need it sooner than later.

To be the change, we must change ourselves. We must humble ourselves and empower the next generation. We need to accept the new realities of the work place. Let’s get moving, lets not wait until it’s too late.

Building back the credibility we need

There will still be a place for us old Fogees (yes that’s a play on my last name). We can mentor, guide, and assist them to do great work.

There is a place for us at start-ups and in emerging organizations as they need wisdom and guidance to build the infrastructure. In mature businesses, we need to accelerate the changing of the guard. Then we need to let the next generation furnish the insides.

Maybe if enough of us do this, we will build back the street credibility we so desperately need. So again, let’s pass the baton before it’s too late!