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Riddell: Generational adaptability

When you start to examine commonalities among successful companies, a few attributes start to emerge. Upon inspection of these attributes, you can derive some important insights that will directly help any entrepreneurial activity. Such is the case with the terms "flexibility" or "adaptability."

As you review successful companies, those of long standing and those of relative short histories, an aspect of continuous and successful change or evolution is present. While many might initially associate this flexibility or adaptability to be of a product or technology origin, my observation is that it is much more of a people basis and, in fact, represents a significant opportunity for sustainable competitive advantage.

For starters, recollect when you first entered into that magic world known as the labor force. For many of us these, were entry level, often manual labor jobs, for low pay with no opportunity for advancement. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, these were also jobs through which we learned a tremendous amount. For myself, I knew at the ripe age of sixteen and a half years old that I did not want to spend the rest of my life working in a leather tannery! I learned that experience merits respect and I also learned that pride in one's work is independent of one's pay. I also learned that it took a half of a week's worth of pay (at $1.60 an hour) to put tires on a $120 significantly-used oil burner that I referred to as my car. And all of this I learned while being told on a consistent basis that my generation "just didn't have it!" We were lacking in the workplace skills and most importantly we were lacking in the work ethic!

Now fast forward more years than any care to remember. Listen carefully today to thirty something managers describing millennial entry level workers. As Yogi Berra might have said, "Its déjà vu all over again!" It seems that this managerial, generational-based demeaning of entry level capabilities and commitment is pretty much the way that it has always been. And I would suggest that it is probably the way that it always will be.

The point here is that successful companies incorporate into their cultures a process for absorbing each generation's predilections while weaving these preferences into the requirements for the company's success. And the success of this cultural adaptation is the springboard for recruiting each successive wave of talented employees. And it is only through this process of talented recruiting that a sustainable competitive advantage can be realized.

I will go even further to suggest that we are also seeing an additional spin on this talent issue. As talented people decide to remain in the work force for a longer period of time, past traditional retirement, there will be a redefining of these generational issues simply because a significant number of managers will be younger than these talented contributors. How these younger entrepreneurial managers deal with these specific age/generational concerns will undoubtedly have a direct and significant impact on the careers of these very same managers and their companies. Again, productive adaptability will separate the successful companies from their competitors.