It’s time to end comfort-zone recruitment and embrace generational diversity

Young smiling black businesswoman at the wall with stickers communicating with her colleagues, generational diversity

Does your hiring strategy tend to bring the same types of recruit into your company? Certain industries naturally attract candidates of the same gender, ethnic background or age group. But some leaders stay in their comfort zones when it comes to their preferred applicants. They tend to hire those who match the type of people who have previously worked well in the organisation and/or select from an established network that they know and trust.

It’s not too hard to see this as a self-limiting move. A team of like-minded individuals may work together with less friction, but that comes at the expense of innovation. Writing in Forbes, leadership coach Janine Schindler reports a “positive measurable correlation between teams who embrace cognitive diversity and teams who exhibit high performance levels”.

One way to inject an organisation with cognitive diversity is to hire people from a wide range of age groups.

Perspective and experience

Before you change your recruitment practices, it’s important to be aware of age bias. People tend to think of younger as “better”, but that is not always the case. Harvard Business Review relates that “raw mental horsepower declines after the age of 30, but knowledge and expertise – the main predictors of job performance – keep increasing even beyond the age of 80”. Unless the role you’re looking to fill depends on physical prowess, remove those mental blinkers regarding what’s young and what’s old.

Many companies are placing less emphasis on academic achievement and work experience, focusing more on “personal styles”. Are your more seasoned candidates flexible, eager to learn and able to see the big picture rather than getting caught up in the details? People who think the “biggest”, who aren’t necessarily those who’ve been thinking the longest, will generate new ideas in new situations instead of relying on what’s worked in the past.

Yes, length and breadth of experience counts, but the old guard eventually moves on. What would your company do if all the workers it has drawn from the same age group were to leave in quick succession? There goes the knowledge base. Every business should be planning for its staffing future, particularly in a market for talent that will only become more competitive.

Attracting younger workers to your company gives its seasoned performers the chance to pass on their wisdom and creates opportunities for promotion. This engages young employees and improves your chances of retaining the best of them. They in turn can help their senior colleagues keep their finger on the pulse when it comes to the latest technology and trends in popular culture.

Creative tension

Just as focus groups gather diverse opinions to shed light on marketing strategies, a cognitively diverse workforce creates a deep pool of knowledge and insight. Its different constituents won’t always agree, but that’s OK. Consider that successful political administrations cite conflicting viewpoints as a positive. The more context that leaders can gain, the more judicious the decisions they can make.

A purposeful shift in the target age of new recruits can unlock the potential of existing employees and improve the performance of what were largely homogeneous teams. It can prevent your workforce from hitting a performance plateau, “ageing out” or lacking broad life experience. What’s comfortable may be great for culture in the here and now, but a generational balance might be your company’s ticket to a better future.

Leadership speaker Chris Dyer is the founder and CEO of PeopleG2 and the author of The Power of Company Culture Kogan Page, 2018

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