The way individuals are forming their careers and their expectations of companies are changing. Today we have invited Jonathan Reeves the Corporate Vice President of New Business at Henkel and Maya Berna who graduated from her under grad in 2017 and masters in 2020 to discuss how new generations are coming into the workforce and how companies, and the leaders within them can be successful through this change.
Topics Covered in this podcast:
- The biggest workforce transformations which senior leaders are seeing today as younger generations enter into the workforce.
- How entry level individuals are thinking about their long term career plan.
- The skills which are important for younger generations to develop when they enter into the workforce.
So the way that individuals are forming their careers and their expectations of companies are changing, and today we’ve invited Jonathan Reeves, who’s the corporate vice president of new business at Henkel, and Maya Berna, who graduated from her undergrad in 2017 and her master’s in 2020 to discuss with us how generations are coming into the workforce and also how companies and leaders within them can be successful through this change. So welcome to you both.
Thanks for having me, Lauren.
Thanks Lauren. Great to join you, especially on this subject. Looking forward to it.
So Jonathan, I’ll shoot the first question to you. What do you see as some of the biggest workforce transformations that leaders are seeing today as younger generations enter into the workforce?
Great question. I think what we’re seeing as we enter the 21st, 22nd century, and also the impact of COVID-19, which we can’t escape, is the fact that leaders of different ages and experiences have to adapt themselves to a new workforce coming into the organization. We’re seeing Gen Z, we’re seeing Millennials appearing and taking on leadership roles themselves in the organization. And what does that mean? That means we have to reframe a multiplicity of things that we would normally do. So I give you an example. Organizations that have lived and died by physical meetings have had to adapt. Now of course, context has had to change, but also the demands of people to be able to work on projects and work in locations that are different to a centralized physical site have to adapt. Then there’s also an emerging demand on people want to work on things that really they believe in, that drives their purpose and is aligned to their values.
And what we find is organizations, of course, it’s natural that to get the best projects and activities out there, you want people to be motivated and who actually want to work on something. So what we’re finding is that actually we have to adapt our working principles so that we can actually find people who want to work on things, on projects themselves, so they get a better alignment. That demands it in itself the workflows changing. So instead of just saying Joe Smith has got some capacity and has a bit of time on their hands, let’s give them the project, that changes the conversation to actually who’s best aligned to do that project. And we can’t hide away from the organizations that we’re always very busy as any corporates and any organization that sometimes that conversation isn’t had in the most optimal way. So we’re having to adapt that.
We’re also having to adapt expectations as well. Organizations are slow moving organizations, even though some of us work in fast moving consumer goods environments. So we have to adapt the expectations. We have conversations with some generations of people who come in and say my expectation is to go this fast or to have an adaptive organization and environment in this way. That’s going to take time. It takes time, but the thing is, the needle is moving, organizations are moving, so we have to just manage both sides of the story.
Do you think that people are more impatient today, if you would compare with when you started?
I wouldn’t call it impatient. I think sometimes there’s a… I think they’re much more value driven. What I feel is that certainly when I joined the workforce, people were much happier to fall into line and follow the rigid structures or… I know it sounds negative, but the structures of organizational processes and how things are done. Now and in some places that needs to stay as it is. I can’t get away from the fact that, actually, if you’re working in a very dangerous environment like the mining industry you have to follow certain rules and processes, and you’re not going to suddenly break them, because human safety and lives are at stake.
But you can imagine if you’re managing a project and you follow certain rules and processes, well, there are new ways of doing things, there aren’t new ways of testing, there are new ways of making things happen quicker. And I think we need to adapt better. On the other side, I think the emerging workforce and the younger workforce does have to probably understand that they’re entering a space where there are going to be, dare I say, as they call it, and I say they, dinosaurs, people who take a little bit more time to change. So there has to be a fine balance to be met. We don’t always get it right, I guarantee you that.
So Maya, when you started looking for a job, what did you think about your career or what your career would look like?
Yeah, that’s an interesting question, because I guess you always want to say and imagine that you have an idea for your career when you’re starting out. You always want to be really intentional about it and have this conviction that this is what I want to do, and this is where I want to be. But the reality is, at least for me, it’s not like that. It hasn’t been like that. My previous job before my masters, I was working in Madrid and it was coming off of an internship, so I got absorbed into the company and I enjoyed what I was doing and it was project management for international development companies, so I was working a lot with developing countries and it was really interesting work, but it’s not something that I started out thinking when I was younger that this is what I wanted to do.
And then that caused me to switch paths and pursue a master’s in business, and I wanted to move away from the public sector. So then after my masters, entering the workforce, again, especially in the US, which is different than entering it in Europe, you have to be more prepared. I feel like interviews, as Johnathan just mentioned are much more structured and the workforce in general is much more structured and rigid. I don’t know, I knew I wanted to work for a corporation, let’s say, like a classic business role, and I wanted to hone in on my client management skills and these social development skills which are really transferable. If you work with diverse clients in client management and project management, that’s something that you can transfer to a variety of industries. So that’s why I wanted to stay within this kind of role.
And I loosely thought I wanted to work in FinTech and technology because that’s just something, an industry that’s booming, especially after COVID, and just my generation, we grew up with technology and I had just been exposed to the idea of FinTechs during my masters. So I had that seed planted. But it’s not something that I am sure I want to do forever, and I think that’s very much a generational thing that we have a lot of ideas of what we want to do and treat a lot of jobs as stepping stones. Not to say that we’re going to be switching forever, but I think our generation is very much used to instant gratification because of social media and just we’re exposed to much more, so we know there’s a lot more out there, so when we realize, or when we have the feeling that we’re not getting rewarded in a certain company, we’ll easily switch industries, even. I feel like that’s a concept that’s much more accepted now than it was.
For example, my parents’ generation, my stepdad has had the same job since he graduated college, and that’s something that I just can’t see myself doing. I like the idea of working with different companies and learning about different industries and traveling. So yeah, the idea of my career has definitely changed a lot.
Well I can tell you, if it makes you feel better, most people don’t know what they want to do when they graduate from college.
I feel like a part of that is just trying different things and seeing what you like, which has already been my experience only having been in the workforce two or three years already, changed once already, so I can just imagine that I’ll keep grouping in different flavors until I figure out exactly what I want to do.
Did speed of promotion or speed of progression come into play, or how did you see that from let’s say a level or progression perspective?
Yeah, definitely. I wanted to work for a company where I saw clear upward mobility, because sometimes companies aren’t very transparent about the promotion cycle. Whereas the company I work for now, which is a software engineering company, I do account management for them. It’s a very clear track. So you start as account manager, you become a senior account manager, and then you become an industry vertical manager, and then eventually a cross vertical manager. So it was very clear that within a year, two years you move up the cycle. And another thing that was important for me was training. I wanted to feel like I had a mentor and there was clear steps for me to follow because in my past job I was thrown into my role and wasn’t really sure and had to make it for myself and gather a lot of information from my colleagues, which is normal, but it was tricky in the sense that I didn’t really have a clear responsibility and had to make the job up as I went.
Whereas in this job, I appreciated that it was a little bit more structured in that there was other people that had my role, there was a clear projectory… Trajectory, sorry. And clear roles, clear clients to go after, clear ways of managing those clients, and also flexibility to go after your own clients and research your own niches within that role.
Okay. Jonathan, how do you see this? Does that seem similar to what you’re seeing from individuals in your organization that are coming in?
Well, even if I take it as a personal journey, I remember when I joined… I started my life in Unilever and I remember joining and I reflected on what Maya said, and I empathize a lot. I think what’s changed a little bit is when I joined, dare I say, it sounds like an old man… Got a gray beard, so… 20 years ago, really I joined Unilever with the basis that I wanted to progress, I wanted to lead a region, but I remember starting and even my bosses were saying, “You’re going to stay here for the next two to three years and you’re just going to do this.” And then when I finished that, “Then you’ll just do something that’s similar but bigger.” And I thought how small minded that was. And I guess at the time I was the new generation coming into the workforce.
And what was different is I was prepared to stay in the organization and move sideways. And it was at that time, actually, I read a report and I can’t remember where it was written that there’s a difference between high flyers and high performers, and high flyers rise rapidly in an organization and then plateau, whilst high performers are those that actually would take sideways moves and would actually build a sustainable career and actually get higher for longer in an organization and get to those more senior roles. And I guess that drove me personally, but it also drove a lot of the conversations I had with the next generations coming in, and it was interesting, Maya, how you were mentioning that you would move from one company to the other. And I think what’s changed is really that perspective, where my generation would be more prepared to move jobs within an organization.
But I think maybe we’re seeing… The question is, are we seeing the death of that 30, 40 years in a single company, as you mentioned your father, and I think I can go back to my parents and parents before who has spent 20 to 30 years and spent that time in an organization, because I think in those days, the belief was you do that because you get a good pension, you have a retirement. And I think you’ve heard many reports, especially through COVID how different generations are richer than the next. So we know that, for example, our parents are richer in retirement than we will ever be and the future generation will be. So therefore what happens is job satisfaction then becomes even more important through that. And I think Maya reflected beautifully in the sense that she wants to find a role that actually is going to satisfy her, not just in the content, but also in the progression.
So you already heard about some of the work she’s doing, being able to go out and be autonomous in recruiting new contracts and new deals. And you can already feel that energy and that vibe, that it’s really important to Maya and her development, and I think that’s something that we’re having to do it in an organization. I’ve got people of Maya’s age and experience, and the same in my team, who I’m having to think about how do I give them the space to go and express their own ideas, their entrepreneurial attitudes and approaches, but in the context that we still need to deliver content that’s valid today?
So gone are the days where you’d write job descriptions that say, “This is what we expect from you,” in a very, I guess, linear way, and you start having to say, “Well, 70% of your job is going to have to operate within that framework, but I’d love for you to bring 30% more value to that role and bring in yourself, your values, your capabilities,” with also the knowledge that somebody like Maya may actually move on outside of the company. So you also have to… And that’s the real tension that exists is how do you build sustainable nature of organizations when some of your talents are actually looking outside to fulfill their careers? And that’s a question, hard to answer, and I don’t know how to answer it today.
Yeah, and I think that, speaking of job descriptions, because as a headhunter, we see a lot of job descriptions and even hiring for my own organization, it’s really difficult because as soon as new tools come out, someone’s job can completely change. So it’s like the technology is moving so quickly that someone in my team that had this job this year, maybe in a year later is doing something quite different. So leads me into my next question, which is from a skills perspective, because that’s what you really need to identify for the job or specific skills or even behaviors, what skills and behaviors do you see… We’ll start with Maya, what skills and behaviors do you see that are important for younger generations, or what skills are you trying to develop that you think will take you farther?
Yeah, well going off the back of what Jonathan mentioned, flexibility obviously is super important as we get into this new normal. I think our generation has the leverage, the benefit of entering the workforce in this new normal, so we’re used to this changing dynamic, this hybrid model. I mean, I think most of us are so at home and it’s nice that we have the option and that’s something that wasn’t available before. I think structures were much more rigid. And I think this actually allowed companies to trust employees more because they see that we’re just as productive if not more productive at home than we were in the office. I know leadership has some different ideas about that. They prefer that we’re all in the team setting and having these water cooler conversations organically, because that helps build the team and things like that.
Yeah, so flexibility is definitely one. That’s a skill that our generation should have entering the workforce. Entrepreneurship, another thing Jonathan touched on is having this necessity and curiosity to grow your own career and to be adaptive and to go out and look for those things within your job and maybe outside of your job that really interests you and to be proactive and not just sit and say, “Okay, these are my responsibilities,” but it’s important that your job encourages creativity and like your own prerogative to search for what’s your interest within this company, or what’s something new that you could bring to the company. I think management is always super open-minded as to especially the younger people. What do we think could get better the organization? What’s a different direction that we could be going? So I think that’s super important.
I work with a girl who’s younger than me, and she’s always admired how outspoken I am, and if something bothers me I’ll say something, or if I am interested in a promotion or I’m curious about a promotion I’ll ask, and she’s always like, “Oh my gosh, how do you just speak up like that? I’m just used to going with the flow and I can never ask these kinda questions,” and I think that’s something that’s really important, especially as younger people, as women, whoever you may be, it’s really important that you ask these kinds of biting questions and not be afraid of the answer. And usually people are ready to give you the answer. It’s not scary. They expect these questions and it’s really important to stick up for yourself and just really make sure that you’re growing yourself as a professional in unconventional ways as well.
Thank you for that. Jonathan, what would you like to add in terms of skills and behaviors?
I think Maya alluded to it. I think what we’re seeing is a generation that is digital first. So I think that’s an easy one. This is a generation that’s digitally native. So I remember I was heading up a team in 2014 where even though the digital infrastructure wasn’t in place for the organization, the interpersonal infrastructure was in place. And what I mean by that is that we only expected the team to be in place physically in one location two days a week. The rest of the time we said, “Look guys, your job is to go and be out there and be with people, be with customers, be with suppliers, whatever it is. You need to go out there.” Now, the evolution of that is actually to be, as you’ve seen with all the digital platforms and everything growing, the whole piece on network effects, actually being networked and understanding who you’re connecting to, and I think Lauren, you’re in the perfect role to express that. The greater you can leverage the network and the more open you can be, and Maya mentioned it, about a generation that’s open to connections.
I remember in the 1980s, I know Maya, you’re going to laugh, but people used to struggle to pick up a phone. There was always this thing about people doing summer jobs, going to America, selling books door to door, and that was like… The people sent there, or they went there to go and build up their self-confidence because they didn’t have the self-confidence to go to… But honestly, you take a young work starter and you give them that job and they’d be bored within a week because that’s not a big challenge in that generation anymore. They’re quite prepared to open up a conversation. They’re more skilled, more social, and as Maya mentioned it, social networks are live online, so it’s not something that’s a rarity to connect with people you don’t know.
I think these are skills that are going to change. I think what’s really interesting is how fast industry will change to match the new skillset. So you’re almost seeing skills going faster than the industry needs. But as Maya mentioned, you’re starting to see some parts of industry where, for example, FinTech. Food tech is also starting to rapidly transform itself. But again, that’s where there’s a disconnect between skills and industry. You’re starting to see disruptions happening. And I think that’s what’s really interesting. I know I mentioned the fact that we’ll see talents move on, but on the other side, organizations need to adapt to the fact that if Maya leaves one organization, she’s a talent that can be available for another organization.
So you need to be more open to the fact that you’re going to have natural osmosis of people moving around. And the aim of organizations is going to be, “How do we generate value in short term from people being part of an organization,” rather than… How many times do you hear things around long-term incentives? That’s almost a, dare I say, a passe thinking. If you’re going to think about the osmosis of young talents floating around, no one wants to hear, Maya doesn’t want to hear that it’s going to take her 10 years to get a long-term incentive. She’s gone and got three different jobs, by then.
Yeah, without a doubt.
Well, thank you both for your honesty and openness. It’s been really, really helpful to have you both here and to see, let’s say, the older generation, sorry Jonathan, the younger generation. I’m in the middle, I guess. Yeah, I’m in the middle somewhere. But thank you both for joining me today.
Great. Great to be with you, Lauren, and great to meet you, Maya.