Much attention has been focused on generational differences in the work force: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and the Millennials. Each generation has acquired a stereotype in values and approach to careers. Will this latest generation be loyal to one employer or become serial jumpers? Will they trade off career for life balance or spiral into an intensifying work environment with evaporating work/life boundaries?
As a boomer entering the work force in difficult economic times, I approached my career with the classic ethic: work hard; do the right thing; and the organization will return earned rewards in fair time frames. Loyalty was a given, and the decision to change employers was not made lightly. Today, for newly minted college grads, it’s challenging to draw lessons from past generations’ choices. Influenced by a vastly different work world, will past drivers of career effectiveness matter in a relentlessly competitive global norm?
From my perspective, the most enduring of fundamentals remains the value of business relationships. Relationship equity is the investment one makes in developing lifelong annuities that yield unfiltered feedback, productive organizational insights, and help in mobilizing the right resources to get things done. Overseas team assignments, demanding client engagements, a big-bet product launch against the odds all create shared, in-the-trenches experience—the basis of enduring relationships.
Much can be learned about the character of organizations and their leaders by observing the nature of senior leader relationships. Effective leaders maintain a sphere of trusted “go-to” people—long-term colleagues with the skills and values to accelerate the strategic agenda. But the most effective meritocracies continuously expand and renew this core, infusing the inner circle with new thinking and skills. If your executive team doesn’t reflect a healthy mix of veteran insiders and newer entrants, you may be in the wrong place.
Someone once said, “Character is who you are when no one is watching.” Similarly, the relationships that ultimately bring the greatest rewards are forged when individual agendas aren’t at stake. In sum, pay attention to developing mutual, trust-based relationships at all levels. watch for the character of the organization by observing how relationships of those around you are grown and refreshed. And, as your own career progresses, create mechanisms that enable others to grow their relationship networks—tentacles of which will invariably come back around to benefit your own.