Fortune Magazine has just released it’s annual “40 Under 40” list of young managers to watch. I was struck by an interesting observation this morning. My surprise was not a result of who was on the list, but rather by who is missing. Of this list of young stars, there was almost no one from a traditional manufacturing company! There were three who you might consider from manufacturing, at a stretch. With the attention being paid to manufacturing in the Presidential campaign, I began to wonder what the future of a manufacturing resurgence would be like if there are no business stars under 40 in those industries. More to the point, why is there no one in a manufacturing company under 40 being recognized as a future business star?
About ten years ago, I recall a presentation by Gary Hamel, in which he pointed out that innovative companies are less about hierarchy and more about ideas. So, one wonders in manufacturing, if we haven’t got the message yet! Clearly the tech industry, consulting, social media, private equity and other industries represented in the Fortune list have a view that ideas are important regardless of age or years of experience.
In manufacturing companies, we pay a lot of attention to the experience one has in a specific industry. I recall one manager telling me that an individual was inexperienced in the business even though he had been with the company 17 years (but in a different division). This focus on experience is clearly important in making sure past mistakes are not repeated, but is it useful for creating new, innovation products and processes?
I am not suggesting we have our large manufacturing companies being run by inexperienced young talent, but would ask the question, how does someone with little industry experience get their voice heard? If they cannot get it heard, then what happens to the employee? I sit in a lot of meetings with managers and when I hear a new idea raised that is a bit off the norm, the usual response is “that is not how our business works”! Or worse, “you don’t really understand our business”!
So ask yourself, are you being dominated by old mental models that shut out new ideas or shut down your less experienced and younger employees? Are these employees being dis-enfranchised? How can you break that model, create new ideas and achieve the next president’s goal of rebuilding manufacturing?
After all, if those young and talented people can’t make headway in your organization they will almost certainly move to one where they can.