Connections – Talent: The next generation

Posted on Aug 1, 2014 :: Connections
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
Seth Mattison

Seth Mattison

The fourth annual Manufacturing First Conference & Expo will be held Wednesday, Oct. 22 at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay. Keynote speaker Seth Mattison, founder and CEO of the Playa Vista, Calif.-based Futuresight Labs and strategic partner at BridgeWorks, LLC, is an expert on millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) in the workplace. In an email interview, he discussed some of the key issues that manufacturers should keep top of mind as they address the growing skills shortage.

Manufacturers are seeing the baby boomer generation getting ready to punch out, and they’re not seeing a wide enough pool of talent to replace them. What are some of the things manufacturers need to do to bridge this gap?

It takes a big effort early in the supply chain of talent to really make a dent in the talent pool. I’m a big fan of all of the community involvement and outreach the (NEW Manufacturing) Alliance is doing to connect with the schools in the region to help build awareness and buzz about the industry. This is a fantastic start, and I’m excited to see how it will impact the industry.

I also think the industry has to harness the momentum and energy that the tech space has created with the messaging that you are empowered to create game changing disruptive innovation at any age. This is what hackathon culture is all about. Anyone, anywhere can come in and create something amazing in a relatively short period of time. Anyone can have a great idea. Anyone can have a seat at the table.

Remember, this generation is watching as people their age – 16, 20, 25 – create billion-dollar companies. You’re recruiting against that level of empowerment. So when we say, “Come in, pay your dues, do the grunt work, and maybe after 10-plus years you can do something really interesting and make an impact in the company or the industry,” it’s not super-appealing.

I think the “Maker Movement”is a huge opportunity for the manufacturing space to leverage to help promote and drive awareness about the incredible opportunities the industry offers to young people.

For those unfamiliar with the Maker Movement – I found Adweek’s definition to be right on the money:

“The maker movement, as we know, is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, the niche is established enough to have its own magazine, Make, as well as hands-on Maker Faires that are catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in–China merchandise”

As someone who has seen firsthand what can happen if the right tools, inspiration and opportunities are available to young people, I fully believe the manufacturing industry has an opportunity to leverage the Maker Movement to inspire tomorrow’s leaders today.

Who are the millennials? In general, what aspects help define them?

Millennials – also known as generation Y – are born between roughly 1980 and 1995. At about 80 million strong, they are influencing every life stage they enter. Influenced by doting boomer parents and the unlocking of the Internet and social media, they are tech-enabled, hyper-collaborative, globally minded, and socially accepting. With traits of confidence and tolerance, they’re sometimes criticized for having a sense of entitlement and narcissism.

How can manufacturers appeal to the millennial generation to attract and retain that talent? In other words, how can manufacturers help make manufacturing an attractive career choice for them?

There are a couple of things the industry can do to be appealing this generation.

Meaning: Every generation wants to do meaningful work, but millennials, in particular, want to feel like their work is making a difference, and they’re looking for this from Day One. The driver here is all about having a purpose that’s bigger than profits. The best organizations find ways to pull the mission and the meaning of their work to forefront of people’s lives every single day. They constantly find ways to showcase how individual contributors are impacting the business and they celebrate it.

People will often say to me, “Well, Seth, we’re not saving lives here, we’re making widgets – how can I make that meaningful?” Even if you’re making widgets, you can continually talk about the impact people make on the organization’s success. You can get involved and make an impact in your communities. Everyone can leverage the fact that meaning is the new money for this generation.

Autonomy: People work best and are happiest when they have ownership over their work, when they can solve problems their way and express their individuality. Benefits and perks are important, but from our perspective, it’s all about empowering employees. Whether it be an open-door policy on ways to improve everything from production and product design, to the office atmosphere and regular team brainstorms, when your employees feel that they can tangibly impact the direction of the company, they’re more likely to fully buy in.

Training / Mentoring: Opportunities to learn and grow are huge engagement drivers across all the generations. Everyone recognizes the pace at which the world of work is changing today. The only way to keep up is to develop a continuous learning approach to life and work. Organizations that support their people with opportunities to continue to develop their skills on all fronts through a variety of channels will win the battle for their people’s hearts and minds.

Foster communities: The best leaders go to great lengths to build strong communities of like-minded people inside the organization. Whether those groups are based on common interests, shared cultures, generations, etc., they find ways to foster tight-knit communities where people feel a part of tribe. Great leaders know, it’s easy to leave a company, but it’s really hard to leave a community.

What are some of the generational issues companies need to keep in mind? Are they keeping up with generational differences in terms of communication and technology?

Communication challenges are everywhere in our workplace today and are always a topic of discussion with clients. We’re living in interesting times. We have so many channels through which we can connect with one another. Think about it – I can tweet you, text you, Skype you, Facebook you, Instant Message you, email, and perhaps even pick up the phone and call you! And each channel poses its own set of challenges.

The bottom line is there is no one-size-fits all approach to communication anymore. Today we must all be flexible in how we connect with one another. I work with boomers who I know really appreciate a personal phone call, especially when dealing with a conflict. At the same time I’m sure many of you have tried calling your millennial colleagues or children only to be met by voicemail and then a text that reads, “What’s up?” My Generation-Xer mentor loves to say, “ ‘What’s up’ is pick up your damn phone!” We laugh but the fact is we all struggle with this. The best is advice I’ve received is simply this, “It’s not about how you want to communicate, it’s about how the person you’re trying to reach wants to be communicated with.”

We all have to be flexible. Can you text? You need to learn how to text. Can you pick up the phone and make a professional business call? You better learn. Start asking the people you interact with how they would like to be communicated with and stop judging it. The key is to learn how to meet people where they are without losing who you are.

How are companies strengthened by adding millennial talent?

Obviously this generation is supremely tech-enabled which empowers them to be incredibly efficient, but they’re also coming into the workplace seeing many of the issues and challenges manufacturers face with fresh eyes and potentially counterintuitive ideas on how to improve operations. Remember, this generation is launching disruptive technologies in every single industry – not just in the social media space.

The manufacturing industry itself is facing disruption by young people like Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer and Zach ‘Hoeken’ of MakerBot 3D Printing. If I’m a leader in the manufacturing industry, I know the next great idea of tomorrow is bubbling up in the mind of today’s 16-year-old. I want them in my organization, and I want to make sure I’m empowering them to bring those ideas to the table.

How can companies help workers of multiple generations work together the most effectively?

No. 1, it starts with some general understanding and perspective on where each generation is coming from. The reality is many people don’t really know that much about the other generations they’re working with, and we have a tendency to label and stereotype each other. This goes in both directions. Young people will discredit anyone that’s not tech enable and call them stuck in their ways, while more experienced folks will say “what an entitled generation that lacks work ethic and loyalty.” These labels, even when said in a joking manner, create real divides between the generations. Creating some dialogue and discussion among these groups is critical to give them perspective.

I love having groups do brown bag lunches and ask a simple question to everyone: “Tell me one big event that took place during your formative years (14 to 24 years old) that had a big impact in shaping who you are today?”

The stories that come out of that question are amazing. I’ve heard everything from boomers that were there for the march on Washington to Xers sitting in high school classrooms around the country watching as the Challenger space shuttle blew up, to millennials using the World Wide Web at 8 years old to source answers from classmates around the world.

Our stories are what connect us. But we have to be willing to share them.

At the end of the day, if everyone keeps a mindset of flexibility and sincere curiosity about the people they work with, it’s much easier to find a way to meet people where they are without loosing who we are. That’s what it really comes down to.

What are some of the trends you’re noticing in manufacturing, positive or negative?

One trend that’s neither positive nor negative but often overlooked is the fact that in many organizations, more and more young people are being tapped for leadership roles. In fact a recent study found that 50 percent of young professionals across all industries are already in leadership roles. A title defined by having a minimum of four direct reports.

People are surprised when I reveal that stat, but the more you think about it, it makes sense. With fresh energy, new perspectives, and a wave of senior leaders set to retire, companies are thrusting young talent into new management roles. Unfortunately, not everyone looks beyond age. Age-related skepticism (and even criticism) is a challenge many new managers will face. This doesn’t have to be a soul-crushing experience, but it will take hard work to win the hearts and minds of your senior talent.

So what can young leaders do?

Engage early. When starting out in a new leadership role, you have to consider the fact that the folks you’re leading probably have a better understanding of the business at hand and the challenges they’re facing. Your job is to tap into that wisdom and perspective as soon as possible.

Embrace your inexperience. Be careful not to fall into the trap of overcompensating for inexperience. It’s not easy to admit you don’t know something when you’re the leader, but the reality is there will be myriad situations and challenges that your team will be well-equipped to help you handle, but you have to be willing to ask for it. Saying “I don’t know” to your team sucks, but being willing to show vulnerability and honesty will earn trust. Embrace it.

Give power to get power. Leverage the tenure and perspective of your team. Look for opportunities when you can step back and allow your senior talent to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge with the team. Instead of you explaining a situation or challenge, let Susan the baby boomer in the group take the lead and walk the team through it. Boom. The dynamic shifts. She feels valued and empowered, and you leverage her knowledge.

Invite them to the game. Don’t make the mistake of thinking just because your senior talent aren’t banging down your door for new and exciting opportunities doesn’t mean they don’t want them. The reality is, they just might not be as vocal about this desire as your newbies are. You need to drive this conversation.

If you’re not inviting your senior talent to step up to new and exciting roles and projects and giving them visible roles, you’re going to lose them quickly. Ask. Dig. Inspire. Find out what they want to do with the time they have left. There’s no reason to have them standing on the sidelines of their career. Get them in the game!

What else is top of mind for you right now?

One thing I think is really important for the industry to know is that when it comes to thinking about messaging for talking about your company or industry to the workforce of the future, is that they’re not looking for information about your company, they’re looking for inspiration about your culture! It matters less about what you do and more about who you are. Why are you all showing up to work at this place? Is it just for a paycheck or is it to do something inspiring?

I think the industry has to reach out to young people and say, “Come help us change the world. We have super high expectations and big, big plans to change the world, and we believe you have what it takes to help us do it.” Now, that’s a more inspiring call to action than “We have great benefits and job security.”


Thursday, Aug. 14    
Pulse Young Professionals is hosting a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers event on the Home Run Porch at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium. Gates open at 5:35 p.m. and game time is 7:05 p.m. Before the game, register for a chance to drive a go-cart on the field. Bring a spouse, friend or prospective Jaycee or Pulse member. Ticket price is $24 and includes an all-you-can-eat picnic. To register, email Adrienne Palm at [email protected].

Wednesday, Aug. 20  
Management Women Inc. of Green Bay will hold its monthly luncheon program from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, 1004 Brett Favre Pass. The speaker will be James Golembeski on the topic of “Managing Men.” Contact Susan Nagel at (920) 419-8531 or [email protected] to register.

Thursday, Aug. 28   
The Heart of the Valley Chamber of Commerce is hosting its Business Between Hours program, “The Basic Rules of Customer Service,” from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the chamber office, 101 E. Wisconsin Ave., Kaukauna. The event is free for chamber members and $10 for non-members.