Gauteng Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  19 Mar 2010

TRAINING: Is SA's Older Management Undermining Our Youth


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Over the last two decades South Africa’s management profile has changed from largely middle-aged and elderly white males, to a high-quotient of young highly-educated men and women of all races. But their effectiveness is often hampered by aging saboteurs.

Liza van Wyk, who was managing director of two major skills training organisations, a property company and a conference centre while still in her 30s said, “our training courses are full of young managers who are often battling to deal with older staff who resent them being appointed over them, and the problem deepens if they are of a different gender or race group.”

Globally managers and leaders are getting younger. While high achievement was considered possible for those in their 40s and 50s little more than two decades ago, better education and the rapid changes caused by technology are seeing increasingly young achievers.

The founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page were in their 20s when they launched the search engine just 12 years ago, that changed the world; Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, which has 500m users is 26. The World Economic Forum has a programme for those under 40 called Young Global Leaders and in February, London hosted a summit for those mostly aged 25 called One Young World with 1 500 delegates from 192 countries.

Better education and a more astute grasp of technology will continue to push more young people to the fore.

Van Wyk who founded her companies has a mostly young workforce, “I have not had many problems with older saboteurs, but our management courses especially those around people management issues are consistently full. We hear the same complaints from young managers either about older staff saying, “This is the way it has always been done” or younger staff sometimes showing disrespect and trying to take advantage of a young manager.”

She says that sometimes older staff self-destruct. “They often display low energy and a lack of enthusiasm, they often seem to feel, ‘I have been doing this for 20 years and I am no longer excited’ and then try to take the easiest way of completing tasks – which is not always the best. And the resistance of many too new technology in a world that is fast becoming reliant on technology also counts against them.”

Research shows that managers will most often tend to hire those who are similar to them, so men educated in private schools will tend to hire other men with a private school background; women who are devout Christians will tend to prefer hiring other women who share similar beliefs and so on. And what will also often occur is that young managers faced with persistent challenges from older staff members will be more likely to ensure they retire or are sidelined, fulfilling the worst fears of the older staff.

Management trainer, Dirk Graadt van Roggen says that dealing with problem employees, especially underperformance and then older saboteurs are the two most common problems young managers face.

“I encourage delegates to share solutions, but in both instances the best way to deal with the problems are to counsel those creating challenges. Why are the individuals underperforming or being disruptive? In many cases with the present economic climate underperformance is related to staff with financial problems, if managers are able to intervene and assist the staff with guidance, perhaps on how to budget better it most often sees a positive turn-around.” Increasingly most of South Africa’s major corporates whether the top four banks or large retailers like Woolworths or significant manufacturers like BMW have significant investments in financial wellness programmes for staff. BMW experienced significant reductions in absenteeism and rises in productivity with these courses

Van Roggen says that when young managers have problems with older staff it is advisable for them to discuss the matter in a non-confrontational way with that staff member, “have coffee or lunch with them, get your ego out of the way, be humble and discuss how a better working relationship can be achieved. But if reasonable approaches fail, then the manager will need to go the human resources disciplinary route.”

Van Wyk observed: “Scientists project that in the first 20 years of this century we will experience as much change as in all of the previous century and after that change will race along even faster. Managers and executives are going to get younger and younger. Companies need to assist them with executive support and people management training. And older staff have to either begin learning faster or more accepting of the imperatives of 21st century change.”

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