Banking on young executives

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 July, 2010, 12:00am

While other employers continue to speculate on how the attitudes and expectations of Generations X and Y will change the workplace, HSBC decided to find out by asking its executives.

Under the guidance of John Coverdale, group general manager and global co-head of commercial banking, a 'virtual' focus group of young executives from around the region was brought together, with a specific brief to identify and articulate the views of their peers. Aged under 35 and all destined for long careers with the bank, their objective was to pinpoint areas for concrete improvement and highlight whether they felt the senior management team is on the right track or not.

'I want to make sure this organisation survives into the next generation and beyond,' Coverdale says. 'That means we must make the business relevant to younger people, so we can attract them to work for and bank with us.'

The starting point was to analyse basic feedback gathered in an annual in-house staff survey. The focus group was given free rein to delve, question, criticise and recommend ways to enhance interest and engagement. One of few specific instructions was to come up with ideas, insights and reasons, and not merely to rehash 'what the boss wants to hear'.

'I soon realised I was getting something of real value,' Coverdale says. 'The recommendations were not necessarily rocket science, but pointed out where some core management practices were done in a patchy way or had been neglected over time.'

Encouragingly, from his perspective, there was little to support the fairly widespread view that members of Generation X and Y, while tech-savvy, tend to be self-absorbed and lacking in commitment. Instead, what emerged was a profile of young people who are generally ambitious, worldly, realistic and keen to learn.

For instance, the focus group reported an interest in knowing more about the actual career paths of senior managers. There were requests for a more consistent and broader system of mentoring. And, in terms of technology and communication, they spelt out what was 'clunky' and stressed the importance of being kept in the loop with information that is timely and in context.

'In a sense, they were pointing out the obvious about good management practice, but they corralled these things and told us where we need to do more,' Coverdale says. 'One thing that struck me is that, too often, my generation thinks something is state-of-the-art and it misses by miles.'

Having come up with the feedback and recommendations, the focus group's next step is logical. After suitable discussion and with the full support of senior management, they must now 'champion' and implement each proposal over the coming months. The aim is for the initiative to reach beyond the confines of the commercial banking division to other parts of the organisation.

'Basically, we have told them go out and make sure they do something about it in their countries and with their peers,' Coverdale says. 'If that doesn't produce engagement, I don't know what will.'

Meeting of minds

A significant proportion of HSBC's workforce is aged 35 or less, making it essential for management to understand issues of generational change

Coverdale believes Generations X and Y are often accused of thinking lifestyle is everything, but most are much more focused on career concerns

To recruit and retain 'knowledge workers', it is vital to make full use of their intellectual skills