Front Line Troops in the Coming Talent War

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A few weeks ago wiredFINANCE wrote about research around the coming talent wars and the critical role of IT. There is a transition underway to increasingly connected economies, and companies that succeed going forward will be those that can attract and retain the next generation of talent. Now you can meet some of that talent.

IBM recently released a companion study to its CEO study, called Connected Generation: Perspectives from tomorrow’s leaders in a digital world—Insights from the 2012 IBM Global Student Study. You can download the report here. In that study, IBM surveyed 3,400 college and university students worldwide compared their responses to those of CEOs in its global CEO study. You can find the latest CEO study here.

In the comparison, for instance, we learn that students share three of the top four concerns of CEOs. Where they differ is when it comes to people skills, which CEOs rank second to technology factors. Students placed people skills far down the list. Other findings may surprise you.

For example, as students join the workforce their expectations for organizational openness will likely drive organizations beyond their current comfort zones. At best, 48% of the top CEO top performers ranked openness high while 58% of the student did. This blogger is surprised the student number was not 80% or more since they represent the first generation to grow up totally connected. They never knew a world without pervasive access to the Internet and Web and the transparency it enables.

There also is a gap between perceptions of different communication channels. For students, the prime channel of communication is social media and the Web (70%). For CEOs, the preferred channel is face-to-face interaction (80%). Both students and CEOs equally discounted traditional media.

Projecting ahead 3-5 years, however, CEOs will catch up with the students. Both groups preferred social media/ Web almost equally.

The students and CEOs also were generally in agreement by a few percentage points on the top characteristics that enable employees to contribute to organizational success in a connected and rapidly changing economy. The top characteristics: communicative (1), collaborative (2), flexible (3), creative (4), and analytical/quantitative (5).

Students and CEOs, however, differed in some key areas, particularly the importance of work-life balance, 54% for student but only 35% for CEOs; ethics and values, students 46% and CEOs 65%; and work flexibility, 40% for students, CEOs just 24%. What emerges from the survey is that work-life balance, ability to innovate, and collaborative and flexible work environment are important to students.

The survey also shows that students have a bigger appetite for change to meet customer expectations and are far more focused on corporate responsibility. For example, 76% of students identified the desire to increase social and environment responsibility compared to CEOs, 44%. Similarly, 67% of students want increased transparency and corporate accountability compared to 47% of CEOs. In terms of customers, 61% of students want to include customers/citizens across the product life cycle while only 48% of CEOs agree.

The IBM researchers take away three major points from the results:

1) Embrace openness to build and sustain collaborative and transparent working environments and corporate cultures

2) Invert the organizational pyramid to allow employees to contribute sooner to innovating business models, improving operations, and driving new revenue sources

3) Reconsider working norms, structures, and behaviors

Will you be happy with this? Maybe not all, but you will have to come to terms with it because these are the same people who will bring the talents and energy you need to drive your business into the future. They also will become your customers.

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