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Passion, People and Principles

Keeping the Kids

post # 90 — May 27, 2006 — a Managing, Strategy post

Among the most frequent consulting questions I receive is how, amid a scarcity of young knowledge workers, junior staff can be attracted, motivated and retained.

My clients also want to know how to justify and pay for the increasingly ridiculous salaries that these young people can command. As one example, young people straight out of law school in the US are being paid more than $140,000 per year!

Similar ridiculous numbers are showing up in a multitude of industries and countries across the world. Ask some Indian parents how they view the incomes their 20-something children can earn in the outsourcing factories of Mumbai!

My clients insist that there is a new “Millenial” generation with different attitudes – that “they” are different than we were (or are.)

I think this is wrong. Because of differences in the supply / demand balance, younger people today may have more opportunities than baby-boomers like me (or like Generation X, Y or Z. or whatever) but the realities of building a career remain the same.

What a young person needs (in addition to a good paycheck) – in fact what he or she MUST have – is the opportunity to work on stretching, challenging interesting things – the chance to build skills.

Without this, they can not develop themselves and have a career – they will be stuck in low added-value jobs. For someone who has not yet “made it”, learning and growing is not a “nice-to-have” – it’s critical.

If they are not learning new things, they HAVE to move on in order to have a career and get somewhere with their work lives.

So, there’s a very simple secret to solve the twin dilemma of how to both hold on to mobile young people AND to justify their ever-escalating salaries. It is this – make sure that they are put to their highest and best use.

To do this requires that the organization has no “underdelegation” – work currently being done by a more senior person that could be done by the more junior person. It means that companies must outperform their competitors in establishing procedures, processes, templates, forms, databanks, knowledge systems and a multitude of other tools to ensure that the (expensive) junior talent can be economically justified by producing ever-increasing high-value output.

Companies that do this find that everybody wins – the juniors get fulfilling, developmental careers that provide opportunities to learn that they could not get elsewhere; the product or service that the company makes is produced more efficiently than when it is made by higher-priced people. Some of the savings can be passed on to the customers or clients in the form of lower prices or fees, while some can be retained as company profits. And the time of the more senior people is freed up to invest in and pursue higher-value opportunities that will keep the organization competitive.

Ah, but THERE’s the problem for many firms and companies. To achieve this nirvana, the senior people must be willing to give up the comfort of holding on to the work they are already responsible for, and be willing to prove that a younger person could do what they have worked for so long to be able to handle!

In many places, this “delegation” solution is virtually impossible to achieve because the existing, senior people are afraid to expose themselves in this way. And company measurement systems that evaluate senior people on how busy they are only serve to reinforce this bad behavior.

This syndrome is not new. I first wrote about it in chapter 2 of MANAGING THE PROFESSIONAL FIRM in 1993. Kids today may be expensive and have an attitude problem, but wise management practices to deal with them remain the same as they always were.


Ed Mays said:

Delegation could be viewed as a leading indicator of the health of the firm. If senior people have a positive outlook for the future, they are more likely to delegate work. They know more work is on the way. If, however, delegated work slows, it may be an indication that seniors believe they will have a harder time keeping their plate full in the future.

posted on May 30, 2006

Tim MMF said:

Challenges are key to staying motivated and getting tasks delegated to you is a great way to challenge your skills. I think you make some great points.

posted on May 30, 2006