What Employers Want – Part 3

In a previous post, I described how managers’ view of college graduates’ unpreparedness for work could instead reflect problems with internal processes related to hiring. The focus of that post was technical knowledge and work skills. The focus of this post is interpersonal and related skills that are needed for valuable higher order skills such as creativity and entrepreneurship.

Predictably, another reason employers cite for not hiring graduates is poor communication, interpersonal, teamwork, leadership, empathy, humility, and social skills (in addition to the well-worn lack of critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing skills). Of course, someone else is always to blame: Business leaders call out educational institutions as not having adequately prepared students along this dimension as well.

Two facts must be confronted: Today’s new graduates are far better educated with respect to communication, interpersonal, teamwork, leadership, empathy, humility, and social skills than my baby-boomer generation. I witnessed this directly with my children’s K-12 education, and I clearly see it in my undergraduate students. Second, being young people, they have had less opportunity to practice and develop communication, interpersonal, teamwork, leadership, empathy, humility and social skills in diverse circumstances compared to someone who is 10 or 20 years older, which is likely the (unfair) standard by which they are probably being judged.

If employers are not seeing these skills in new hires, it’s probably because they are not doing it. New graduates either have no role models or the leaders are poor role models. Most organizations suffer from politics which can quickly damage one’s communication, interpersonal, teamwork, leadership, empathy, humility, and social skills. Organizational politics blocks the flow of information and causes people to focus on their own well-being. Most organizations blame people for problems. This too blocks information flow.

What’s different about this new generation of college graduates is that they think organizational politics and blaming people for errors is bullshit. Unlike baby-boomers who accept it, millennials see it as abnormal, completely unproductive, and a huge distraction from doing good work. They see it as a waste of precious time and, therefore, as wasting their lives. This new generation of college graduates has a good sense of what “Respect for People” means, and they value that. The baby boomers that are in charge today should learn from new college grads, not criticize them for personal attributes they mistakenly perceive them to be lacking.

The way I see it, it is today’s leaders that have poor communication, interpersonal, teamwork, leadership, empathy, humility, and social skills, in addition to lacking critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing skills. They are not making friends with the younger generation – who are their current customers, their new employees, and their future leaders. You can avoid hiring them now, but not forever. Eventually, you will need the capable young people whom you now criticize as inadequate.

This younger generation seems intuitively much better at understanding the importance of information flow, what blocks information flow, and how to unblock it – and how to do good work and get it done quickly. The greatest regret that nearly every leader has is: “I wish we would have done XYZ faster.” Ever stop to think why things go slow, and what you may be doing to contribute to that outcome? Today’s graduates comprehend that behavioral waste slows things down. Perhaps their greatest regret will be: “We accomplished so much in such a short time. I wish more people could have had this great experience.”

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