What drives the Expendables? What motivates them? What's important to them? How do you lead this group of talented castaways? Are these characters more work than they are worth or are they an incredible opportunity? How does one manage and lead these individuals? Do traditional leadership tactics work? And should our expectations of this group change? Many of you may be wrestling with some or all of these questions, unsure of how to bring this sort of talent jambalaya together to work effectively and gel as a team.
Research is clear regarding the value this segment of the workforce can deliver to an organization. Companies have spent years training and developing this group only to bail out on their investment before it had a chance to payoff. The price on paper (read salary) appears too high to consultants, so company after company makes the classic investment mistake by liquidating their investment just before it begins to yield dividends. They manage people as a cost on the income statement versus as an investment in their portfolio.
Today, we have a large group of 50 something's back in the job market, often working in lower level, lesser paying jobs and frequently in all together different fields than they previously worked. Their priorities have changed. In many cases, the experience of being thrust into unemployment late in their career has not only changed the way they approach life, but also the way they approach work. A disgruntled group destined to be a problem for leaders? I don't think so. In fact, I believe this group is a sleeping gem worth taking the time to understand and lead for the benefits they can provide. Here's how to get the most out of them:
Step 1: Recognize the expertise they have to offer. Somebody else has already trained, nurtured and payed the developmental cost for this group. While you can offer opportunities for additional development and training, forget about requiring. As long as they can do the job you hired them to do (if they can't, you shouldn't have hired them in the first place), your job is to tap into the asset. What matters most is a little respect. When one gets cut after many years of service to an organization, even the strongest of spirits suffer a blow to self-confidence. Your task is to build them back up and engage them.
Step 2: Clarify expectations. This group comes from varied backgrounds and companies, hence their view of "the way work gets done" (culture) varies widely. Their perception of what various job functions "should do" also spans the gamut. Both realities spotlight the critical importance of clearly defining roles (theirs and others), as well as, any cultural keys for your organization. Clearly define each role's responsibility, outline operational priorities and discuss how you want the organization/team/etc. to function as a group.
Step 3: Forget about traditional motivators; discover what drives them. Most often you are paying the Expendable "less than market" (and they know it), so variable pay opportunities such as bonuses or travel opportunities that include their spouses might be viewed desirable. Take the time to get to know each individual and what they value. At the end of the day, they bought into the job they are doing, at the pay they are receiving, so don't worry if you don't have additional perks to offer. Let them do what you hired them to do. At this point in their lives, many have decided priorities outside of work are more important anyway, and work is . . . well, work.
Step 4: The fundamentals still apply. As with most things, the fundamentals always matter. Communication, accountability and trust remain primary drivers of performance no matter the age or demographics of an employee. Performance improves as trust increases. Trust increases as people feel informed and included. And accountability is born out of objective, line-of-sight expectations (see the WIN Leadership Model). When employees believe you care about them and the expectations are clear, they perform better.
Leading the Expendables is not a daunting or difficult task. It simply requires a slightly different approach. Your job is to tap into their expertise, clarify roles and expectations, discover what drives them and stay true to the fundamentals of leadership. In doing so, you will reap the returns on an investment others deemed . . . expendable. Lead on!