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Check It Out!

“A million young poets screaming out their words,
Maybe someday those words will be heard,
By future generations, ridin’ on the highways that we build,
Maybe they’ll have a better understanding.” –John Mellencamp

Being of small town Midwestern roots, I find that many John Mellencamp songs evoke memories of good times past. Check It Out in particular reminds me of a time and age when I felt invincible, a time when it was OK to take risks, to be a little different, to have fun. The words suggest that there is a responsibility of youth to chart a new course.

In these lyrics, Mellencamp also highlights the importance of the links between the generations. Effectively, one generation continues where another leaves off.

For me, the lyrics bring back warm memories of relationships I’ve had with people who I would consider to be my mentors.

That said, as I contemplate these lyrics and look at the way we are creating future foundations in the workplace, I am a little concerned.

One of the current themes of human resources management is the need to approach organizational structure, systems and development in a way that is attractive to the various generations. For example, current thinking is that Gen Y and next generation are both attracted to and are engaged by organizations that build good infrastructure, with processes and systems in place to enable them to thrive. According to the article written by Anthony Portuesi, What Employers Can Do To Attract Gen Y Talent in the Workplace, the three things you can offer to attract Gen Y’s best and brightest include flexibility, feedback and value. To have these things in a manageable way means having well-developed human resources practices and structure.

Hey, I’m all for doing good work and laying a foundation for those to build upon, but is all of this overkill? It seems these days that everything MUST be linked—terms of employment, career paths, policy, company vision, mission, values, performance management, competencies, capabilities, compensation, systems integration, all to give employees a clear sense of where their career might be going. It seems the more layers and linkages the merrier. But are we taking the enjoyment and the real challenge out of the act of creation? Is some of this just busy work that may be distracting us from getting things done that need to get done?

Perhaps my Gen X mentality is getting the best of me. Not to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but my generation had great fun and displayed significant ingenuity by making motorcycles by sticking playing cards in our bicycle spokes. We made music out of mom’s pots and pans, and many of us built our careers without a lot of direction. I sometimes wonder if all this structure is a grand make-work project. Is it really attracting great people? Is it really retaining? Is it really innovative? Is it really enlightening? Are our organizations evolving? Are we more profitable? Is it truly best practice?

Without a doubt, I achieved what I have in my career as a result of the support of people I would characterize as mentors. Those people’s experiences have helped me on my journey. I wasn’t hacking my way through a proverbial jungle to get to where I am today and I’m not asking those in the future generations to find a jungle that doesn’t exist. In fact, establishing a mentorship program as part of career development is now the hallmark of an effective business. And certainly, the human resources profession has evolved so tremendously over the past twenty years that our roles are barely recognizable from what they might’ve been in the past. That said, my mentors were good because they gave me hints only. Many of the best roles I was ever in had no job description. My mentors showed me the general road map but didn’t tell me where to go. More often, their act of mentorship was simply encouragement or a small suggestion. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a mentor was, “If what you are doing isn’t working, try something else.” That’s such a simple suggestion, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times that advice has come in handy!

There are many Gen Y members who are a part of this circulation, and if you come from this generation, I’d be very interested to hear from you. Maybe I need to be sold on this. Is it hype, or do you truly feel that structure is important to your enjoyment of the work, to your success and to your upward mobility? Do you believe that employers with a well-stated value proposition are better than those who are learning as they go, and if so, why?

In recent years, one of the most popular evolutions of music is the technique of mash-ups—e.g. taking a good old riff and incorporating it into a new song. Increasingly I’m finding it difficult to appreciate new songs, because I just don’t like the new riffs and mashing an old riff to me doesn’t count as something new. Like domain names, it is as if all the good ones have been taken and there is nothing new left.

With regards to this issue of Gen Y and Next Gen retention and structure, to use a Good to Great analogy, the bus probably has already left the station. My hope is that those on the bus will have a better understanding of where they may be headed.

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