Many of us will have heard of the millennial generation referred to as “Snowflakes” and the “Snowflake Generation”. In this context the suggestion is that they are in some ways less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations. The other, more relevant suggestion is that they swan around under the naïve impression that they’re special, beautiful and unique with a strong sense of entitlement. But isn’t that what older generations always say about the following generations?
There are other possible ways of looking at this perceived “Snowflakery”
Perhaps being “prone to take offence” is perceived from their strong personal belief in fair play and their commitment to creating a better community for all. This may lead to an unwillingness to tip their cap to the status quo and to challenge even the smallest negative behaviours in our society. In a VUCA world being turned upside-down by global political and environmental challenges, is it any wonder that this generation is seriously concerned about the world they have inherited from their parents? Maybe they are justifiably keen to do a better job for future generations and to do it in their own way.
On the flip side of this discussion is the question “How did we create a “Snowflake Generation?”
Well yes of course they have “Snowplough Parents” who spend all their time smoothing out life for their precious offspring. In doing so they rob them of the opportunities to grow and learn from the ups and downs of life. Equally it could be said they ploughed a clear furrow of values and a willingness to challenge that status quo for their offspring. This is the generation of CND, Green Peace, Civil Rights Movement, “second-wave” feminist cause, and much more.
Snowflakes at work
If we translate this into the world of work, do we try to steer our employees’ careers for them? In effect, are we “snowplough” employers? Or do we encourage them to own their own careers and support them to navigate the world of work, learning from its many ups and downs. The millennial generation generally choose the latter. They change jobs frequently and move quickly when they get disillusioned. For them, the size of the paycheque is somewhat less important than the perceived value of the work to improve themselves and contribute to the broader community.
The snowflake generation and snow plough employers were discussed at length at a recent Primeast Talent Forum in Dublin. We were exploring the challenge, brought by our hosts ESB: “How to source, grow and retain technical talent – who can develop the future skills that currently don’t exist but will be critical to our future as a business”. Denis Kelly was in the forum “hotseat” feeling the melting snow and Clive Wilson was facilitating. In relation to the challenge, Denis suggested that the days of the snowplough employer were numbered. This was a new term for many in the room, including Clive, but it was a very helpful metaphor.
The snowplough employer is the one that takes control, smooths out the bumps they see ahead because they believe they know future roles that are needed to build new capabilities and the “right” career path for each of “their” employees. This paternalistic approach may have worked in the past but in a world enveloped in a “VUCA Fog“, such certainty is more likely to steer careers onto the rocks. All our business environments are changing at an increasing pace, technology is allowing new players to enter previously protected markets rapidly and, whilst there is much data on key trends, there is also far more uncertainty. The key to success going forward will be agility and adaptability and they will not come from “one size fits all” traditional development approaches. But, rather than feeling downbeat about the challenges we face, our All Ireland Talent Forum of some twenty professionals from a wide range of industries agreed that the role of the employer is to present the challenge as exciting and meaningful. This a world where people can bring their unique skill-sets, talents and curiosity into play for the benefit of all stakeholders. The contribution of the employer being to help people unlock their full potential and take personal ownership of their career journeys.
Instead of designing career paths for employees, leaders and managers need to inspire people with the excitement of the challenge and support them to recognise, develop and use their talents to grasp emerging future opportunities. Instead of being snow plough managers or even career-controllers, they need to move into the role of the career coach, facilitator and ‘leaders by example’.
Of course, managers don’t change overnight. The journey from “reactive manager” to “creative leader” is beautifully described in “Scaling Leadership” by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams. Their statement (on page 169) says it all:
“It is hard to change deeply grooved patterns in how we show up every day in our lives, and our leadership.”
“Scaling Leadership” also introduces powerful diagnostics based on thorough research to help leaders navigate the journey. Clive Wilson is one of an increasing number of Primeast Leadership Circle Profile Certified Practitioners. Click here to read more about the power of the Leadership Circle Profile.
You may wish to read the article “Leadership – Circles within Circles, or a Voyage of Discovery?” by Primeast’s Sarah Cave.
To push the metaphor just one stage further, we need to be ready for quite a snowstorm in the years to come. Remember, each snowflake is totally unique but when they come together in numbers they can totally transform our landscape – if you get our drift!
For fun, here are a few interesting quotes going back to 1700: Proof that people have always complained about young adults
Co-written by Denis Kelly, Manager Engineering Capability Development at ESB and Clive Wilson, writer, keynote speaker, facilitator and coach at Primeast.
To start a conversation about building the capability of your leaders you can contact Clive Wilson on 07801 019891 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.