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The Effectiveness-Lab

Is your organisation’s structure now a generational affair?

Those of you that want a gander at what has gone wrong at companies today should take a keen interest in this organisational Design (architecture) organisational-Vital (OV) series.

OD traditionalists will tell you that to design a viable structure for the organisation, calls for juxtaposing: organisational purpose vs the process that attains the goal, and then move to derive a suitable structure for the firm. In effect, structure is the vehicle that transports process to deliver purpose. In simple terms, form follows function. We at the Effectiveness lab challenge this linear approach to organisation structure design

Yes, the design reflects the purpose the organisation is created for, but also increasingly, individual fashion or trend. And if structure is about fashion, then it’s also about what is popular and trending. Modern style is a personal values matter. It’s what the individual believes and wants for self-satisfaction.

Therefore, structure’s raison detre can no longer be to achieve the organisation’s purpose, but also, the purpose of those individuals that the organisation wants to have as its employees.

The Millennial Enigma – Are firms ready?

It’s against the above background that we start our discourse on organisational design by focusing on ‘the generations‘, instead of Strategy or Purpose and Process.

The emergence of the generational challenge in organisation structure design:

Now, you have to remember that you belong to a particular generation. The generational factor shapes two things for you and the organisation:

1. What you individually have to do, for institutions to want to hire you and your skills, but also
2. What those institutions have to do to get you to want to work for them.

It’s increasingly becoming a two-way affair.

Five generations make up our society today:

1. Generation Z (or the Centennials) – Born 1996 and later
2. Millennials or Generation Y – Born 1977 – 1995
3. Generation X – Born 1965 – 1976
4. Baby Boomers – Born 1946 – 1964
5. The Traditionalists or silent generation – Born 1945 and before

The three key factors that shape generations are:

1. Parenting
2. Technology
3. Economics

Generations and the workplace:

The fundamental question has to be: ‘where do we spend the majority of our adult life?’ According to employment statistics from the UK, and it can’t be that different from your country, you will spend:

  • 35% of total waking hours over a 50 year working life period at work, assuming that you spend 8 hours sleeping
  • 50% of your total waking hours in a day at work
  • And a whopping 92,120 hours assuming a 40 hour week, over 50 years, at work

We spend, on average, one-third of our adult life fending for ourselves. That is a lot of time, especially when it’s spent at a workplace that is not appealing and makes our lives miserable. Yet that is precisely what is happening at firms today and causing a precarious, unhappy and highly mobile workforce.

The underlying causes of the above labour dynamic are driven by a complex mix of inter-generational manifestations on society and their effect on the labour market

Generation type and its influence on longevity, loyalty, and satisfaction at a job:

Just like the contemporary architect involves prospective house owners in the design of home spaces that they will spend most of their adult lives in, companies should either engage staff or consider generational psychosocial-drivers, when developing structure

What worked for the Baby Boomers may not work for the Millennials and Centennials. It’s no longer a one size fits all approach. The Baby Boomers were into parenting. Baby Boomers wanted job stability to provide for and educate their children to guarantee them a better life than theirs. Many remembered the ravages of the immediate post world war II period and the ensuing cold-war. Baby-Boomers had an eye on stability and guaranteed income to raise their families in comfort. They will spend an average 4.4 years at a job or longer. They accepted a supply than a demand-driven relationship between the employer and employee.

The Millennials are a different kettle of fish and are forcing OD practitioners to rethink the configuration of organisations. They thrive on positivism at work and obsession with themselves. A study by PWC points to unusual characteristics of the Millenial generation.  Employers can’t just disregard what Millenials and future generations want

  • Loyalty lite: Millennials expect to have six employers or more in their lifetime. 38% of the Millenials are looking for new employment, and 43% are open to new offers. CEO’s and HR practitioners should ask what Millennials are looking for and how to provide the same. It has something to do with their engagement at work and a positive culture. Designing the right organisational structure for them will encourage their stay at a job
  • Personal Development and work-life balance are treasured: These two are more important to them than financial rewards. Cash bonuses aren’t ranked high when it comes to benefits preferences by the Millennials. Millennials are asking for a new type of benefit. A benefit that may not require money and other organisational resources per se, but a much softer factor – i.e. the manner in which their work is organised. Millennials, unlike the Baby-Boomers, look for positive experience at work. It has to be fun for them, lest they will move on
  • A techno-savvy generation that is not interested in face-time: Technology dominates every facet of a Millennial’s life. 41% prefer to communicate electronically at work than face to face. Technology is a source of intergenerational conflict at the workplace and Millennials according to the PwC survey ‘feel held back by rigid or outdated working styles.’

Ironically, the Baby-Boomer ideology, it is said, helped to create and apparently reinforce the Millennial’s sense of entitlement. They are spoiled kids, so others want to allege.

Some CEO’s will ask: why the fuss about the so-called Millennials?

Well, simple answer: by 2020, Millennials will form 50% of the workforce. Also, the next generation (Z), that is even more socially complex than the Millennials is starting to get into the labour force. So, if you are interested in 50% of your staff being dissatisfied, less productive than they should be, and a very high turnover then disregard organisational architecture matters of this era.

Frederick Taylor era reductionist tendencies that translated process and workflow from the factory floor into the so-called organisation-chart and the static job-description can no longer stand the test of current times. Boxed functional design attuned to shop floor processes do not bring about a positive work culture. Reductionist tendencies at work have to be curtailed for more contemporary and people sensitive approaches

At this stage three of the effective organisation series, it’s apparent that the interconnectedness of the OV’s (Leadership, Strategy, Design (Architecture) and People) is fundamental to attaining bionic and smart entity status. In this case of the Millennials vs Structure, firms may have good Leadership and Strategy, but without the right Structure and People dynamics, this generation, that will soon form 50% of the adult workforce, will simply not work for you. If they do, they will whine all day and won’t be as productive

So, organisation structure is not only about purpose and process, but also, the individual’s ‘fashion’ or ‘values’ regime. Be warned!


5 responses to “Is your organisation’s structure now a generational affair?”

  1. […] the Millenials and Z-Generation are taking over the world – anyone in the ’50s, even the early ’50s is […]


  2. […] we have to tread carefully with the above theory. In this day and age, where the Millennials are occupying increasing space on the corporate middle and senior management tiers, even those with […]


  3. […] when we discuss the architecture of organizations, it’s never far-fetched to relate it to generations in society. After all, generations shape the values, likes, and dislikes of a particular group of […]


  4. […] on two organisation design drivers – Strategy and Process. Last week, we presented a case for People becoming the third factor in matters organisation design. Indeed, People is not only the third […]


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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