HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Published: 10 Apr 13

Thomas Goh

Here's how Singapore's industry leaders manage across generations


One of the widely discussed contemporary management topics is about managing across generations at the workplace.

The workplace in Singapore, much like everywhere else consists of Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; the Gen (short for Generation) X, born between 1965 and 1977; and the Gen Ys born between 1978 and 1991 and the Gen Z (or the Millenias) born after 1991.

As they are born in different eras under widely differing socio-economic circumstances, these general categories of employees are said to have different mindsets, career aspirations and communication styles.

Baby Boomers are generally said to value loyalty to the company, place importance in seniority, and think workers should work their way up the corporate ladder.

Gen Xs seek to have their views, knowledge and skills valued by their bosses. Gen Ys are said to place loyalty to their profession rather than their jobs, and they enjoy work that gives them flexibility and empowerment. 

Gen Zs are generally highly technology savvy as they are born into a technological world. Their leadership style will evolve around technology and how this will manifest will depend on how their schools and societies evolve in the new world.

Are these generational differences as intensely different as some commentators have pointed out? Is there a difference between generational differences in Asia and in other parts of the world? 

To find out, I asked three industry leaders in the field who are familiar with the workforce landscape globally and in Asia – a Chief Learning Officer in a global hotel chain, a Chief Executive at the Corporate University of a leading company in Malaysia and an Executive Director in leading Professional Organization in Singapore. 

Kimo Kippen, the Chief Learning Officer and Vice President, Learning, at Hilton Worldwide, cautions against over-generalization and broad brushing people with assumptions on their aspirations and behaviours. In a multi-national, multi-brand company like the Hilton Worldwide, it takes pride in valuing diversity. “At Hilton Worldwide, we treat each and every employee as unique individuals – just like we would like them to treat our customers.”

Hilton Worldwide is a global hospitality company with a 94-year old heritage that owns, manages, and franchises a portfolio of 10 brands which includes Conrad Hotels & Resorts and Hilton Hotels & Resorts. Hilton Worldwide’s brands encompass more than 3,900 hotels with over 650,000 rooms in 90 countries. In Asia alone, it has 35,000 employees – with most of them Gen Y.

Referencing Hilton Worldwide’s Global Operating Model, Kippen pointed that the “rise of global customer markets” and the ”rise of global talent markets” mean that they need to hire people who understands diversity, globalization and localization for both their customers, and their employees.  “You can’t serve a globalized, diversified group of customers if your employees are not culturally savvy.”  Key to this is to align the company’s culture and organization globally – regardless of geographies and demographics. Hilton Worldwide does that by communication.

Kippen notes that Gen Y forms the largest employee demographics at Hilton Worlwide.  “We have to tailor our career paths, our training programs, our management style to suit this generation … we have to get our strategy, structure, people and process aligned, and people are an important component in our corporate strategy”

Illustrating its importance to the business, Hilton Worldwide recently organized a Gen Y Conference in Asia which was attended by 320 delegates and 224 students from 36 nationalities.  “The idea is help them understand the Hilton Worldwide culture, and help us understand what we could do to be their Employer of Choice in Asia.” 

Weighing in on the same topic is the Chief Executive Officer of Petronas Leadership Centre, Yasir Abdul Rahman.  Petronas Leadership Centre is a leading leadership development centre based in Malaysia servicing high-performing, global professionals in the Oil and Gas sector.

Yasir believes it is important to help an individual realise his/her potential regardless of their age group or profile. The drivers of motivation and engagement are different from one person to another and it is important to help everyone grow and progress in their career. 

That is why the centre encourages high potential employees to be involved in local or overseas community cause or projects so that they feel they are helping a wider community out there.

Yasir advocates using different tools and techniques to build such engagements and apply them consistently across all age groups. Tools that Yasir used for his clients include, but not limited to: 360 degree surveys and feedback, employee opinion surveys, psychometrics assessments and employee coaching.

“You could understand the general workplace landscape through surveys, but when it comes to helping make the workplace better, you have to deal with it at team levels and on the individual level.” 

Yasir added that inspirational leadership is important in leading multi-generational workforce.  “Because of the way the workplace is structured these days – flatter organization structures – it is increasingly more important to have influence skills. Particularly in a matrix organization where your team members may not report to you, it is all the more important to influence without authority.”  

Yasir pointed out that demand for talents is intensifying as globalization creates a new workplace landscape where knowledge and talents are the competitive advantages of the company. It thus makes sense for the company to maximise every employee’s potentialand ensure a high retention factor through positive environment and management culture.

Is the issue of Generational differences as big as some might perceive?

Robert Yeo, the Executive Director at Singapore Training and Development Association (STADA), noted that companies are focusing on leadership development for Gen Y, “but that’s because they are moving into leadership roles” rather than being a conscience effort to train a particular demographic.

Using the analogy of water, he illustrates the focus on Gen Y as a natural adaptation to the new circumstances, “Just like water will take any shape and form, companies need to adapt to emerging trends. 

With Gen Y entering workforce and taking up leadership roles, there is certainly some attention paid to them.” 

However, Yeo sounded a caution: “You can never ignore anyone. Each demographic is important, in their own ways, in their own terms, to make an organization successful. All the groups have to learn to adapt and work together, no matter what their age or circumstances.”

In fact, Yeo started a group in a popular social media site LinkedIn called Community Spirit to advocate equal attention and focus on all demographics.

This platform is for the workplace professionals to develop and grow as community of practice. The key to making communications, teamwork, and productivity successful between the generations is to both understand and respect the differences.

 “You lead by example – whether you are 20-something or 50-something - what is important is to be able to lead well so that others see you as a role model, and as someone they truly respect.”    

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

Thomas Goh

Thomas Goh

Dr Thomas Goh is Chairman of the Innodaptive Group - a global network of thought leaders, management consultants and corporate advisers.

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    Tags: Thomas Goh,Singapore Training and Development Association, Kimo Kippen, Yasir Abdul Rahman, Robert Yeo


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