Leadership on Day 1: Can we do it?

(img: http://toolkit.smallbiz.nsw.gov.au)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Stu Crabb talk about how Facebook is handling leadership and career development in their increasingly Gen Y dominated workforce. Obviously, facebook has the ability to offer less structure and attract the cream of the crop in terms of interns and new grads, but even so, I was blown away by the motivation and energy these new employees exuded on Day One and how the organization fosters and supports those two increasingly precious resources.

Every new hire actually thought Day One was the first day they could start helping Facebook become a better product, and in turn, the first day they could start changing the world. Ideal and naive in most orgs? Maybe, but who cares? If you had the chance to hire an employee that wanted to change things for the better or one carrying the albatross of a spirit crushed by the slow turning wheels of big business, who would you pick?

I realize most companies don’t have the freedom (or require too much training) to let people run wild on Day One and “go break things” isn’t a strategy most stakeholders can buy into, but that motivation and inspiration is something for which organizations must account. For every day we let our newest hires flounder or stagnate, it is one day closer to them walking out the door or becoming disengaged.

Organizations are trying to address this concern; the latest trend is to introduce a leadership program as part of the orientation process  (note: this is something we do at TELUS), but ultimately leadership development ends up being like a house plant you buy for your first apartment. At first, it looks great but without proper nourishment and care, it quickly starts to die. Best case scenario, your new team member is like a cactus and can survive with minimal care and limited resources, but in most cases leaves dry out and begin to fall before someone notices and floods the plant with water to try to solve the problem.  Unfortunately, once team member’s spirit starts to die, it’s almost impossible to repair.

More importantly, the Gen Y workforce doesn’t want to be told how to be a leader, or who should be treated as one. More than any generation, they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and believe output and action are more relevant than role, experience or salary grade. Want to impress the boss? Sure, but they’d rather earn the respect of their peers.

Certainly telling people that they can take courses or will be assigned a mentor is a good start, but these formal, predetermined schedules directly impose the spontaneous, open dialog that normally drive creativity. Organizations need a consistent, peer driven feedback channel that actually reinforces effort and growth. This can’t be a yearly cycle, tied to a bonus or promotion. It can’t be driven from the top down. Leaders must support and encourage their team, but understand that the people in the trenches are key to the success of the team and the ones that will ultimately inspire their colleagues.

There are a few companies – my director Dan Pontefract pointed me in the direction of Rypple that create “new software from a Toronto startup called Rypple that lets people post Twitter-length questions about their performance in exchange for anonymous feedback” (taken from Business Week magazine) – moving in the right direction, and I can only help to leverage the collaboration tools we have at TELUS to drive the same sort of change. I think it’s the biggest challenge we face.

Starting a new job, much like starting a new relationship, new adventure or new challenge, is one of the most exciting moments of our lives, and that unlimited potential has to be harnessed and set in motion to result in something kinetic.

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