Posts Tagged ‘old’

Damon Oldcorn berates the entrenched ageism of the IT industry.
empowerment

The word ’empower’ is used a lot these days to describe a company’s ability to meet change by giving authority to the people at the sharp end. Words like this always seem to be touted around by public relations people, nothing too detailed of course, just some well concocted statements to mark some occasion or other. So the poor workers on the shop floor (as it used to be known) are going to be empowered. I do hope someone has told them about this new era of decision-making and accountability.

As you know, global organisations and our own high technology firms have thinned down their company structures, partly because of economic pressures, partly with the introduction of newer technology. Companies emerge with a streamlined look, not much middle, a flat top and a flat bottom. The idea behind the structure is that the strategic decisions made at the flat top can be whizzed to the troops at the flat bottom for them to implement tactically, making ever more accountable decisions as they go. Great in theory, but not so great in practice if you’re the 45-year-old who had to be removed to make way for this new wave.

Most of the companies I come into contact with, many in the computer and communications industry, have not trained the executives at the flat top in the new-age skills needed to compensate for this rapid change in business strategy. So as you can imagine it is extremely unlikely that they have got round to the training needs of the flat bottom to help them adapt to the new demands of this empowerment process. The question is, can the executives at the flat top grasp the new-age skills for this tremendously taxing change? I mean this change is major league, so not to be treated lightly.

sensitivityTo achieve corporate excellence today, the executive will have to have many facets in their management kit-bag: creative insight, sensitivity, vision, versatility, focus and patience (to mention just a few). Let’s focus on sensitivity for a moment ( a word not often heard in this rough, tough, high technology market). If, in the final analysis, people are an organisation’s greatest asset, then the new type manager must understand how to bind them together in a culture, wherein they feel truly motivated in the pursuit of higher goals. Face to face communication, ongoing training and development, creative incentive programmes and job security all display the sort of sensitivity that nurtures strong cultures.

Every strong culture and in this case the empowered culture derives from management sensitivity. Without it employees feel unmotivated, under-utilised,even exploited. It only takes a flick through the online job bulletin boards to see how we treat our employees. The turnover of staff, both junior and senior, is as fast and furious as ever, and there is a common pattern to people moving on. A majority when asked why they changed companies, would reply that they were not managed or spoken to in a professional manner. What a waste of time and money for all concerned. Let’s see some action to design companies so that empowerment is a balanced reality between decision-making, accountability, training and management support.

jin-tt-vs-nospringchicken-flatTo return to a point I touched on earlier, ageism, there seems to be an unwritten law in this industry that says because we keep inventing shiny, new products and services, that we must always have shiny, new younger staff as well. The number of over-45s who seem to get sidelined is amazing. What happens? Is it self-perpetuating because we have younger senior executives or younger recruitment staff? Are they unsure of their industry skills or even political ground to keep on older and more experienced staff than themselves. The older executive does not lose his or her ability to make decisions, to contribute creatively and energetically. Let’s not keep falling into the trap of discarding experience, if the industry is to mature it needs that stability.

The number of young executives I see looking for answers to basic business questions (on any online industry forum) that got answered  a long time ago concerns me. It’s not their fault, who have they got to learn from if the older mentor figures keep disappearing? There has to be a process of regeneration, a cycle where experienced professionals, grounded in business skills, impart their knowledge to the next set of executives. Who else will do it? The major company training schools seem to have diminished, or if not, focus too often on technology orientated product courses. You can only learn so much from self-help business books or company sponsored MBA courses.

Day to-day business sense has to be learned on the job, from people you respect and want to emulate. You can’t just hand out senior management positions to young executives before they are able to cope with the pressures that surround these demanding roles. So let’s match the investment that is made in the technology with investment in the long-term skills and care of our people at what ever stage of their careers, young or older.

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I was at a recent event out in the sticks from London for a change, technology based and all about the future of a particular layer of mobile development. Something that might affect all of us in the future and as I looked round the room I was struck by the fact that 90% + people there were over forty if not fifty years old. It made me think, is it true that when it comes to the big moves in the game the decisions and politics that shape our world at that level are still made by older grey men?

The magazines and blogs would have us believe that the movers and shakers of the technology world at this time are all young men and women reinventing that world and beginning to control the levers of power in that setting. In small numbers that might well be right and hopefully that will continue to grow as it is a healthy platform to build on. But from many years of negotiating deals on a global basis, it has always been clear to me that when the big decisions are to be taken it seems to return to a table with either one powerful older man or a board of older males, very rarely women to make the final sign off.

Now it is not for me in this piece to fight the cause for this to change, rather it is to accept at this point that this might be the status quo and how to deal with it. When I talk to founding teams of growth companies most of the time there is a certain naivety about who or what they are going to have to deal with over the coming years. They want to do deals, partner and expand internationally but seem to be leaving it to trust that the people that they have to engage with will be similar in thought to themselves. Now this might be true for a limited number of cases within that shiny new circle of emerging players, but when you look into who they will have to deal with on a regular basis as they scale that certainly changes.

That optimism and idealistic approach that has galvanised their companies and belief that others across the table are there to help them grow will be shattered at some point. As they continue to underestimate the nature of big business and a set of long-established rules for playing in that pool, increasing numbers will find their ambition blunted. Well we won’t deal with these people or type of companies I hear them say, well good luck with that, given when you trace back the lines of power to the centre how much control of markets these people have.

A better strategy would be to wise up to the reality of global business, learn the rules fast and begin to accept that not everyone has their company’s best interests at heart when working closely with them, internal or external. Numerous up and coming companies over the years blast out major PR announcements about global deals with big names either in direct sales or joint venture plays. Only for me to discover as I do when generally picking up the pieces afterwards, that the majority of the margin created has stayed with and will continue to stay with the big name player involved. This cannot always be avoided, this is real life and the pressures from larger players can be enormous, but it does not need to be the norm if handled with the right knowledge, attitude and experience on board.