Briefcases to Backpacks
By John Grubbs
Any Airport, USA and you will notice executives no longer carry the traditional briefcase. Most opt to carry a more practical backpack instead. Now before we get too excited, I know there are some classical holdouts that still remain strong with the traditional briefcase. However, as a frequent business traveler, I have been taking an informal (and unscientific) survey of my peers on the road. I am comfortable stating that 90% of business people (men and women) now choose a sturdy backpack to engage the world of commerce. So what exactly does this mean?
As predicted in my last book, Surviving the Talent Exodus -2011, customs and attitudes are changing faster than most people realize. Twenty years ago, most business people would never enter a corporate board room with a backpack slung over one shoulder. In fact, we took pride in the fine leather briefcase and its distinctive, audible click as we unlocked and opened it prior to an important meeting. A backpack certainly would have been a contradiction to the fine, dark suit and the serious message it was meant to convey.
Today, we consider it normal for executives to walk into the room and place a backpack on the table in order to remove the laptop or tablet for the meeting. During a recent meeting in a very opulent board room, I noticed an entire row of backpacks along the wall behind the chairs.
The influence millennials are having on the workplace is remarkable. With the emergence of the technology generation, we have made a shift. When I was a younger businessman, I wanted to look older and more distinguished. Today, many executives are fighting to look relevant to a workforce that is getting younger every minute. As many as twelve thousand baby boomers are retiring every day and replacement employee more than likely a twenty something year old with a very different attitude toward work.
It’s inevitable that the dominant attitude in business will be younger as we approach the year 2020 when as many as 50% of all workers will be part of Generation Y. This attitude is multiplied by the emergence of technology and the younger worker’s ability to embrace and even adapt to the ever changing role it has for every business.
Change is happening so fast, yet many do not realize or acknowledge it. They are sleeping on a plane. They feel no movement, yet they are travelling 600 mph. This inability to feel the consequences of change are paralyzing many corporate board rooms. Executives are often afraid to look at the business world through the eyes of their youngest team member and this difference in perspective will become a major obstacle to success in the future. Who needs change? This company has been successful for over 50 years. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. These paradigms are going to cripple some of the most successful and historically profitable organizations moving forward.
Examining traditions of the past though the lens of today’s workforce is necessary to attract and retain the best workers in any given market. Almost every strong business today is now in a battle to win the war for talent. Today’s workforce is nomadic and changes jobs every 16-18 months on average. Organizations must work to become the employer of choice rather than the employer of necessity.
The age of servant leadership is upon us and those that “get it” will build a strong business around talent as the competitive advantage. Business will now conform to the worker, rather than the worker conforming to the business. This will happen in order to become appealing and attractive to the workers in a given job market. You can hold on to that briefcase if you choose to do so, but just make sure it has a sleeve for your laptop inside it!