Magazine article Government Finance Review

Leading a Complex Workforce

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Leading a Complex Workforce

Article excerpt

Leaders today work with the most complicated workforce in history. For the first time, four generations are employed side by side, each at different stages of life, and each with conflicting perspectives, expectations, and needs. The members of each of these groups have largely been shaped by the social and economic events that have occurred during their lifetimes, and they have very different perspectives and expectations of their jobs and their leaders. In addition to generational diversity, today's workforce is also ethnically and culturally diverse. As a result, leaders are discovering that they need new skills.

Motivating and inspiring this complex group of workers is a challenging and rewarding experience. Successful management allows the organization to capitalize on diverse ideas and styles of working that lead to innovation. Leaders can need to learn to tap into the resources a multigenerational and multicultural workforce provides, handle misunderstandings and misperceptions, and make the most of employee's varied talents and worldviews.


Although employees are of different generations and backgrounds, there are general strategies that help with motivation and productivity.

1. Treat Others with Respect. Respect others' social, economic, generational, cultural, religious, life and work experience, and lifestyle differences. Think of each person as a collectible first edition book and go beyond the cover to learn who's inside, so you can truly understand and appreciate them. Venture capitalist Irwin Federman said, "Your job gives you authority, your behavior gives you respect." To foster loyalty and commitment, recognize, honor, and appreciate each person for the strengths and gifts they bring to the team.

2. Inspire a Shared Vision. The difference between a credible person and a credible leader is having a vision. A vision pulls people forward and unites them around a common purpose. It helps employees focus on shared aspirations and working together to achieve exciting possibilities, while seeing how their long-term interests can be realized as well. The best leaders are those who are able to help employees see how the employee's personal goals align with the organization's goals and vision. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, put it best: "If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don't have to be pushed. The vision pulls you." Communicating your vision can help in recruitment efforts, as well.

3. Make It Easy for Others to Express their Ideas. The most innovative environments are those where people feel comfortable sharing their suggestions and concerns, and where healthy disagreement can occur. Involve employees, ask their opinion, and consider characteristics and traits that may inhibit employees and keep them from expressing their ideas. Solicit ideas in different ways. Some people are comfortable speaking in groups, for instance, while others prefer speaking one on one. People perform at their best when they can make changes, and therefore it's important to provide a safe environment for employees to suggest new ways of doing things.

4. Commit to Ongoing Growth. As a leader, provide employees with not only the tools and resources they need to perform job tasks, but to develop competence and confidence to maximize their potential (for example, skill development, career advancement, or learning a second language). …

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