Traditional leadership methods have become a barrier to success, says Susan Annunzio, author of Evolutionary Leadership: dynamic ways to make your corporate culture fast and flexible. Leaders must learn to combine their experience with the aspirations of a new breed of fast-moving, highly motivated technology devotees to create an effective working environment, writes Ross Bentley.
First, business leaders must tackle a clash of generations that exists within the corporate walls, Annunzio says. She sees the "baby boomer" set locking horns with the "nexters" - the new generation of people entering the workplace.
"These are people who have never known a world without a computer and they know more about the new world and its opportunities than their forebears," says Annunzio. "The baby-boomers see that these guys are in a hurry and think they are arrogant and not prepared to pay their dues. But they are our children, we have taught them to speak their minds and to be more cynical. However, they tend to overlook the fact that the baby-boomer generation can teach them a thing or two."
She says business leaders need to blend the old and new world views. "Let's keep core competencies but also adapt to technology," she says.
Annunzio has interviewed more than 100 students from the top business schools and discovered that, rather than being motivated by get-rich-quick ideas, they are looking for opportunities to make a difference.
"They want to work where they are respected, where their ideas count," she says. "Companies which want to succeed need to attract these people and therefore need to create an environment where they can thrive."
Second, Annunzio says, companies must revisit their approach to change management. The workforce of most companies can be divided 20/20/60, she says. "Normally, 20% of employees drive 80% of the work," she adds. "These are highly-motivated individuals who work for results. They follow company rules but break them when they have to." Another 20% Annunzio labels "the miserables" - and classifies them as the type of people who will whine and complain with the introduction of every innovation and fresh idea.
"Most of the resources spent in change management programmes are exhausted on this bottom 20% but these finances are misdirected," she says. But It is better use these resources to convert the remaining 60% - the "movable middle" - as she calls them. These are the majority of employees who come to work looking for direction but in times of transition are confused about who to follow.
"If a company wants to make a quick change it needs to make heroes out of those in the top 20%. If you can convert 15% to 20% of the middle 60% into emulating your high achievers then you have a dynamic company," she says.
Finally, it is vital that leaders get their people to discuss the "unspeakable subjects", Annunzio says. These are the things people discuss after a meeting has ended.
"You know - the stuff that is discussed in small huddles once a meeting has broken up," she says.
"Companies need to find a vehicle for these subjects to be aired out loud. It is sad that people are scared to say anything that might rock the boat.
"If you want to keep hold of your top 20%, leadership has to take a role and, whether you want to hear what people really think or not, give permission to people to speak out and say what they really think," Annunzio concludes.
Evolutionary Leadership is published in London by Texere. www.etexere.co.uk/
This was first published in April 2002