Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Honorable Alexis Herman Keynotes IFMA Conference

"If your current reality defines your future state you will not be successful in the workplace of the future."

With those words the Honorable Alexis Herman, former Secretary of Labor closed her keynote remarks before IFMA members assembled to launch this year's WorldWorkplace conference.  During her comments she made telling points that resonated throughout the gathering of over 3,000.

Polarization of the workforce is obviously a major demographic issue.  We all know the story, Boomers are leaving (or sometimes not) and Gen X and Gen Y members entering the professional force.  On the whole, 30% of the workforce today is comprised of Boomers, but 40%-45% of key positions in key industries are occupied by Boomers.  When Boomers were asked to identify themselves by raising their hands in this morning's session there was an audible gasp as the vast majority (I estimate over 70%) identified themselves as Boomers.  This represents a key niche inside the generational shift occurring in the workforce and can be either a opportunity or risk.  It appears to be a larger issue in FM than most professions (to the extent this morning's straw poll is accurate).

Value differences between young and old generations are behind different behaviors and expectations.  Gen X and Gen Y workers typically change jobs 7-9 times by age thirty-five.  When I was young that sort of history meant you were not dependable or incapable.  Today it does not necessarily mean either.  Whereas older generations "lived to work," younger generations "work to live."  That value difference alone helps motivate many of the behaviors that sometimes perplex older workers.  However, as readily as younger workers leave companies they rarely leave relationships.  This in part helps offset the tendency to migrate because the important social connection is retained, and it is that connection that will pay dividends down the road.  Relationship management is a key value and skill for younger workers and they are very intentional about it.

Working in a global market requires a cultural perspective.  Secretary Herman noted also the shifts in the workplace both domestically in the U.S. and globally.  She predicted that the U.S. would not have a shortage of jobs in the future (after a prolonged recovery from our current malaise), but that we will have a shortage of skilled workers.  This transition of our economy to a more educated and skilled workforce emphasizes the need for individuals to invest in a life long learning process.  Keeping up with advancing technology is only a part of it.

She also reminded us of the importance of FM aligning closely with business goals and initiatives, and remarked that major organizations cannot be successful today unless FM is at the leadership table.  Such is the leverage that the assets we manage represent; the ability to affect the enterprise on a broad scale based on our ability to align strategy and foresee future requirements, opportunities and risks.

Seeing ourselves as cultural bridges was a central theme in her remarks.  Whether it be generational shifts, jobs moving around the globe, or the transition of the workforce it comes down to the one word she described as being a most essential characteristic.  "You must be FLEXIBLE, or you will be irrelevant."

Like you I am sure, I have been challenged at different times throughout my life.  In those experiences I have learned that being flexible is a good thing, a very good thing, and never more so than now.


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