CEO interview on talent

Last week we reflected on the challenges that organizations are experiencing in attracting and retaining talent. The Nit Picker had the momentous occasion to interview a CEO of a mid-sized company in the service industry with about eight hundred staff, 75% of who are below thirty years of age. The following are excerpts of the interview.

NP: “Thank you Mr. CEO for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your experiences about attracting and retaining Generation Y human capital.”
CEO: Grunting loudly he blew his nose loudly into a sodden handkerchief. “Yah. Before you begin, what is all this Generation Y maneno I keep hearing about?”
NP: “Gen Y – those born from 1979 to present – is one of the largest demographics entering the workforce. It is estimated that this generation will make up approximately 46% of the workforce by 2014, so attracting and retaining them is critical to organizational success.”
CEO: “And in your opinion piece last week you called us old guys ‘Funny Daddies’ ”
NP: “ Actually it’s ‘Fuddy-Duddies’ ”
CEO: “Same difference!”
NP: “Alright. Gen Y now make up the bulk of your non-management cadre and will be entering the management track imminently. Some of them are already heading some of your departments. What is your company doing to ensure you keep the talented ones within the company?”
CEO: “Frankly speaking, I don’t see why they should be treated any differently from all the staff, after all when I started working in my youth I don’t remember there being any different policies or treatment for us. In fact, the issue I have with these young people of today is that they have no loyalty to their employers. They come and go as they please, some of them even resign even when they have no other job that they are moving to. Who in their right mind does that?”
NP: “Mr. CEO that is exactly what the problem is. Gen Y is a whole different kettle of fish and many organizations are finding that if they don’t change their human resource strategies they will spend a lot of valuable time and money hiring and training new people to replace exiting staff. They also find that the attrition rates for staff go beyond the healthy 5% per annum standard and that the creative, innovative and talented individuals that contribute to the organizations’ competitive strength are amongst those leaving the organizations.”
CEO’s eyes flashed animatedly and he leaned forward in his seat: “Nit Picker, let me tell you, hard work never killed anyone. People need to understand that if you come to work everyday and deliver what your performance contract requires of you, you will be paid a salary and, if the company does well, you will even get a good bonus that can help you buy a plot somewhere and build a home in the future. Just do what you are told and you will be rewarded.”
NP: “Gen Y does not like those words ‘do as you are told’ Mr. CEO. This generation is made up of very independent thinkers who want answers to their questions, who want to be communicated to in simple language and who want their leaders to speak TO them and not AT them. For example, how often do you talk to your staff to tell them what the company’s strategy is, how do you demonstrate the ‘bigger picture’ and how each individual’s performance contributes to that bigger picture?”
CEO: “How can I reveal our strategy to them? They will talk to the competition about it! The other day, one fellow came to me and said ‘Mr. CEO, do you know the competition are planning to lower pricing on a certain product?’ The only way he could have known that is if someone from the competition had revealed that information to him. They can’t be trusted.”
NP: “Your staff still call you ‘Mister?’
CEO: “Of course they do, I don’t believe in this first name nonsense. Were they there when I was being born? My age demands a certain amount of respect and I really detest first name familiarity.
The CEO stood up and began pacing back and forth. “Can you believe that last year’s Employee Survey feedback suggested that we convert one of the meeting rooms to a game room with a television and darts board where they can have their coffee and snacks during working hours?”
NP: “I think they want a place to relax and recharge their batteries without having to leave the office building. Don’t you think that it helps to keep the creative juices flowing?”
CEO: “That is nonsense. We are paying Kshs 80/- per square foot to the landlord. Using valuable office space to provide a sitting room is a complete waste of money. That space can be better used to put more desks for a bigger sales force. In fact, why didn’t I think of that before?” He reached for his phone and barked a few orders to his secretary. “If they want to charge their batteries as you call it they should drink Lucozade, or that other stuff I see being advertised ‘Red cow’, or is it ‘blue bull’?
NP: “Red Bull.”
CEO: “Same difference!” He looked at his watch, signaling a desire to end the interview less than ten minutes after it had started.
NP: “So is it safe to conclude that, in your view, Gen Y is like any other member of your workforce and you do not have nor need a differentiated human resource strategy to attract and retain them?”
CEO: “These ‘Gen Y’ as you call them are kawaida employees. They want to change the way work is done in offices and things are not done that way. They have to learn how to operate in a serious working environment just like everyone else.”
NP: “Mr. CEO, if you don’t change your views regarding Gen Y soon then, in the legendary words of the Apollo 13 crew: ‘Houston, we have a problem’. ”

Carol.musyoka@gmail.com Twitter:@carolmusyoka