2 Great HR Challenges

If program and project management was not challenging enough, an existing challenge is about to dramatically increase for the next several years. HR management is a very complex topic these days. Many organizations have two (I know of one that has three) generations currently employed. What is interesting is that they are still seeking talented staff.

Recent discussions with an associate prompted this article. All of us were together at a premiere management consulting firm in the early 1990s. We looked back at our professional lives in what was known as the “Big 8” and a bit later the “Big 6” after a couple of mergers. We all agreed that things have certainly changed since we were all together. There are many positive things and a few shocking and not-so-positive developments in the mental models and attitudes of new entrants into the workforce.

Questions from a new hire

My former colleague called me when he was traveling in my area just to catch up. During that conversation, he could not help but comment on the dramatic changes that have taken place from when we worked together at a primer management consulting firm and now.

He told me about a recent conversation he had with that a professional consulting firm’s space planner. In that conversation, she had talked about a new hire’s conversation with her. In that conversation, the new hire asked, “You mean, I have to come into the office?”

We were both shocked! When we were not working at a client’s site or involved in other activities that required travel, we were expected to report into the office. New hires today seem to be put out by the requirement of being onsite at a client’s location or reporting into the office when not assigned to a project.

Wow…how things have changed! We looked forward to our days in the office to get to know and interact with others at our level and to schmooze with others in management. Often times, we would volunteer to help or work with them in the office just to show off our skills and to get to know and learn from them. In the lengthy conversation, none of that seemed to enter of the mind of the new recruit.

Wait, wait…don’t go!                                                        

A gentleman and long-time program and project manager that I have known, worked for and worked with (and most importantly learned from) announced to his employer that he was going to retire this coming January. Almost immediately, he was summoned to his boss’s office for a meeting with HR. Both tried to convince him to stay—and not just for a few months, they wanted him around for years.

They asked what he liked and what he did not like. They talked to him about telecommuting and remote work. They talked about an increase in salary and more vacation. After about 40 minutes of that conversation, he looked at them and shook his head and said, “It’s amazing I did not feel wanted until I decided to leave. Perhaps I would have wanted to stay if I was made to feel that way for the past couple of years.”

In thinking about this situation, I can recall a number of times this has been the case when people decide to leave a company to join another firm, although they were not as vocal and honest as this gentleman. Acknowledging the value of employees regularly is quite beneficial, even though you sometimes cannot readily see it.

Sitting back and looking at the contrast between these two actual interactions is certainly telling. Nearly a 40-year difference in age exists between the two individuals. While that is certainly a difference, the biggest difference is certainly the attitude. The elder worker diligently waited to be noticed, rewarded and thanked; while the younger immediately projected the expectations, likes and dislikes from the very beginning. At this point, who is to say which one is right and which one is wrong?

Some say it is a sign of getting older. Others say it is just the change in mindset for the work ethic of years gone by to the work ethic of the newly minted workforce. Whatever you call it, it is a growing challenge for program and project managers. The span of worker’s attitudes, cultural differences and attributes in a workforce that spans three generations is huge—and challenging for even the best program and project managers.

While staffing has always been challenging, acquiring the needed staff with the hot skills in demand today—and with the ambition to stay current given all the changes that are taking place and are about to take place—is becoming extremely difficult. As one staff recruiter put it, “There is a real shortage of properly skilled workers with the experience and attitude that most organizations are looking for.”

A report released by the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) titled “The New Talent Landscape” provides some real insight into this growing issue. Nearly 70 percent of human resource professionals across industries acknowledged experiencing “challenging recruiting conditions” in today’s labor market. Other reports suggest that the current talent shortage is at its highest in over eight years, and that trend is likely to continue.

All of this does not paint a pretty picture. Even more concerning is that it is going to get much worse as we move further into the current age of accelerated emerging technologies development and deployment. For all of you in or near the retirement age category, think about what it would take for you to stay for another three years.

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