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Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

How do you win the war for talent?

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Guest post by Sarah Sladek

About 40 years ago, shortly after the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) were born, demographers and industry leaders realized that someday this generation of 78 million Americans would retire and the nation would experience a shortage of experienced and knowledgeable talent.

Alas, the time has come.

We’re on the brink of the largest shift in human capital in history and we’re still not prepared. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts Generation Y (1982-1995) will become the majority of the workforce in 2015. It’s high time to start preparing for and developing the next generation of talent.

With almost every company out there expecting to lose a significant portion of their employee base through retirements, competition among employers is likely to heat up, making the recruitment and retention of talented workers considerably more difficult.

Want to win the war for talent? Here’s what your company needs to do to engage the next generation now.

Culture

First and foremost, focus on ways to improve the employee experience. Turnover among Gen Y is about twice as high in comparison to older generations, and the greatest amount of turnover is attributed to workplace culture. Gen Y workers seek a strong and meaningful workplace culture. They want to work for leaders that offer openness, inclusion, and diversity. Beyond Google and a handful of other exceptional employee-first, innovation-driven work cultures, most companies fall way short of providing great places to work where employees are making an impact and building meaningful relationships. Start here.

Trust

Closely related to culture is trust. If Gen Ys don’t trust a manager or company to provide stable employment, career enrichment, and progression, the relationship will be transactional at best. Trust is a necessity for Generation Y.

Quality vs Quantity

Next, rethink what it means to get a promotion or leadership role in your company. Older generations tend to think in terms of quantity because tenure represents loyalty, dedication, and wisdom. But Gen Ys think in terms of quality because they’ve been raised in a rapidly changing uber-competitive marketplace. They value speed, service, skills, and a competitive advantage and believe the best person should get the job regardless of age or years of experience.

Mobility

The fact is, Gen Y isn’t likely to stay at a company for five years and they certainly won’t wait that long for a promotion. This is a mobile generation pursuing a mobile career. They want their employers to allow them to literally move around the company into new jobs or assignments every 12 to 24 months. Implement a career ‘lattice’ rather than a ladder and provide talent mobility, special assignments, job rotation programs, and intrapreneurship (allowing employees to act as entrepreneurs and develop new products and services for the company).

Collaboration

Find ways to foster a collaborative environment in your workplace. Today, leadership is less about authority and more about influence and teamwork. Collaboration will soon rule because younger generations have been groomed to do it, cycle times will demand it, and technology will continue to enable it.

Customization

With three distinct generations in the workforce—Baby Boomers, Generation X (1965-1981) and Generation Y—employers need to develop highly individualized solutions to accommodate the career needs of each generation. Savvy owners and chief executives will take advantage of the unique skillsets, attitudes, and characteristics of each group and create career paths and shared leadership opportunities for every generation.

Time

To Generation Y, time is more valuable than money. This means they will want flexible schedules and may prefer additional vacation days to cash bonuses.

Technology

Expect—and embrace—increased telecommuting, virtual teams, and more work flexibility overall. New technologies will continue to be developed and globalization will continue to drive the utilization of these advanced mobile technologies.

Fast-paced change in our society has affected all industries and will continue to change the nature of work for the next 10 to 15 years.

Employers need to worry a whole lot less about the Boomers leaving (because they will) and a whole lot more about whether they’ve adequately prepared Generation Y to be the best economic engine possible (because we need them to be).

Time is up. If your organization isn’t thinking about and preparing for the future, it’s already irrelevant.

Sarah Sladek is the CEO of XYZ University, a generation-focused management consulting company based in Minneapolis. She is also the author of several research papers and books on the generational topic. Her latest book, Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now (Association Management Press), was released in August.


The Product Management Perspective: The new generation of product mangers bring new expectations and ideas to the product world. The discipline of product management is changing as new, younger people enter the industry. As a leader of product managers, you need to build a culture of trust, mobility and collaboration. Long-time readers of this blog know how I feel about trust. You can improve mobility by giving your team members new products to own and drive forward. Foster collaboration within your team and with other teams you work with. As you do these things, you and your team’s relevance will grow throughout your organization.

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One thought on “How do you win the war for talent?

  1. Pingback: How do you win the war for talent? | HENRY KOTULA

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