The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan



Leading a Four-Generation Team
Are you up to the challenges of a changing employment landscape?

By Dr. Greg Story

Abenomics and its successive economic policies will make sure we are all kept hard at work, beavering away well into our seventies. The Veterans (born 1925–44) and Baby Boomers (born 1945–64) will be “too old to rock and roll, but too young to die.”

They will, however, be surveying a scary workforce comprising Gen Xers (born 1965–81) and Millennials (1982–2000). Scary, because, unlike their own youth, during which the leadership ethos of tough love and “you need us more than we need you” from one’s seniors was all the rage, the young will definitely have the upper hand.

In the future, universities will be doling out duds in large numbers. According to a Japan Times article, nearly 80 percent of students here go to private universities. Currently, 40 percent of these institutions can’t fill their quotas for students, and it will only get harder.

These schools really need money, so the standards of entry and exit will be tweaked even further to allow these bastions of mediocrity to stay in business.

The young won’t be working for themselves much on graduation, because they lack the ability to raise capital. Japan ranks 120th (South Korea ranks 34th) in terms of the ease of starting a business.

Plus, the social stigma and shame of failing is a strong motivator for graduates to opt for the relatively safer salaryman route. That means these youth will probably wind up working for us.

Interestingly, a recent survey from the Sanno Institute of Management found that 76 percent of new hires in a company wanted to stay there until they retired. Smaller families due to cost pressures, older parents because couples are marrying later, and doting grandparents will ensure these workers grow up super-indulged.

We need a birthrate in Japan of 2.1, but are only achieving 1.43, so population decline is assured. Even if the government entertains hiring foreigners en masse, it won’t solve the problem.

According to another survey by the Japan Productivity Center, 30 percent of new grads will happily switch companies for better working conditions. Perplexingly, some 44 percent say they prefer to receive a steady salary, unrelated to their achievements or competency—uh oh!

It gets worse. Between 1997 and 2014, the number of workers aged 15–24 almost halved, and the total workforce dropped from 69 million to 65 million.

This means you will be in rabid competition with every other employer for a diminishing resource. Their price will go up and we will finally have labor mobility, but it will be employee, not employer, led.

Welcome to leadership in the new era! We will need to keep the old rockers rocking for longer. We will have to accept that the “dud quotient” will soar and that energy and money will have to be invested in vast quantities to seize scarce human resources and then pray they don’t leave.

Is your management team up to snuff for the task ahead? Make sure they don’t exhibit any of these five basic misperceptions about the troops:

1. Everybody is the same
2. Everybody wants the same thing out of work
3. Everybody wants to be promoted
4. Everybody wants to be a manager
5. Everybody wants to live up to superiors’ expectations

In our Dale Carnegie global survey of workplace engagement, validated in Japan, we found that there were three factors driving engagement: staff’s relationship with their immediate supervisor; a belief in the direction senior leadership is taking the organization; and staff’s pride in the organization.

Middle management will be key to keeping people engaged. They can link the various generations in the firm, they are your key messengers, and they are responsible for almost all execution of strategies.

You can be assured that whatever you have been doing, it won’t meet the new demands of leading a four-generation team. The soft skills especially in need will include an ability to lead, manage people, and communicate much better.

If you are pleasantly concentrating on developing only hard skills or technical abilities, good luck! The rest of us will be plundering your shop for talent, because your technocrat-led team won’t know how to keep them happy, engaged, and contributing. •



Dr. Greg Story is president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan.