This month’s Q&A with five golf industry builders is a pretty revealing read about the state of the industry from a different industry segment. Many of their observations, anecdotes and gripes mirror those superintendents from coast to coast have shared with us over the last year.
One of those issues is labor, which some builders indicated was the biggest business challenge they’ve faced over recent years. Jim Glase may have summed it up the best: “I think the biggest change now is it’s tough to find people who are going to do physical work and spend 10, 11, 12 hours a day working outside when they want to sit behind a desk or sit behind a computer and work six or seven hours.”
Does that sound familiar?
Worker retention was another sore point with builders. They lamented young workers can’t be counted on to stick around much longer than a few years, just as the investment of time, training and mentorship begins to bear fruit. In fact, industry veteran Allan MacCurrach recounted his “90-day rule,” essentially a sink-or-swim policy that once weeded out the weak candidates and helped build a strong corporate culture. Today’s work environment, he’s learned, is much different: “I tried sticking to that rule and it got pretty lonely because there weren’t many folks around anymore. We had to get off that rule. It’s a huge problem. But it’s a huge problem in almost every level of employee you are talking about.”
I’ve been fortunate to attend the Syngenta Business Institute on several occasions. It’s a specialized MBA-style short course for superintendents held over the course of three days at Wake Forest University. Interpersonal communication and dealing with generational differences is one of the more actively discussed topics with attendees both in and out of the classroom. One of the messages that the instructor conveys is the importance of understanding how younger generations approach the workforce, to accept the fact that they won’t change, and to adjust your management style to their viewpoints and values.
I would say 99 percent of attendees, including myself, react with abject horror at the implication of hierarchical anarchy in the workplace. Why should I, a superior, kowtow to a subordinate. It’s an assault on our egos – “Hey, I’ve done the time and I’ve earned this. You, newbie, haven’t.” It’s an affront to the long-held belief – “Just be happy you have a job.”
Sorry, but the simple truth is we need to evolve management styles to fit the demands of today’s incoming labor force. Today’s youth are notorious for breaking paradigms, a fact anyone born before 1985 can’t seem to grasp. The incoming labor force (millennials) are multitaskers who bore easily. They need constant feedback and recognition. They desire a balanced lifestyle and aren’t interested in 50- to 60-hour work weeks. Most will not hesitate to leave a good-paying job for one that offers a flexible schedule, greater appreciation, and is more aligned with their goals and values.
It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but it’s a dose of open mindedness that we’re all going to have to take if we ever expect to work together. Generational differences don’t have to tear a company – or a maintenance crew – apart. Rather, make the effort to really understand your employees, their desires and goals, how they prefer to work and communicate, and how best to apply their strengths to your operations. On the flip side, be more open with them about your management style, job expectations, and the skillsets you hope a candidate or employee can bring to the position and the overall group.
In today’s workforce, one size no longer fits all. Instead, open yourself up to their values and figure out how to guide them through their daily actions and, ultimately, a longer and stronger future with you.