Picture the scene: a middle-aged chief executive is tackled at a heated meeting of hundreds of staff by a 20-year-old asking if new recruits can really be confident that the company's top-line business strategy is right and, if so, what evidence there is to prove it. An exasperated CEO might be tempted to say the strategy is the board's responsibility, thank you very much, but it is unlikely that the questioner will accept this. Evidence of a generation gap?
I am intrigued by the changing needs of the young people who will be our future managers. They are often known as Generation Y - people born from the early 1970s onwards.
The view is often aired in the media that these generally well-educated, demanding individuals have an 'I want it and I want it now' attitude. Pampered since birth, they have an overwhelming sense of confidence in their own abilities. They like to challenge authority. Give them a task, ask them to do it - and they will probably want to know why.
The Chartered Management Institute recently published a fascinating report on the career aspirations and development needs of managers from this group. It reveals these talented individuals to be different from their media stereotype. The results showed that an overwhelming majority of Generation Y managers want to work for an organisation they can believe in, but more than half expect to move to a new job within two years, having built up their transferable skills. Two-thirds of them (67%) expect to have a range of jobs throughout the course of their career. They are much more likely than previous generations to move on if their needs for challenge and career development are not met.
There are many publicly declared shortcomings of this generation, but from my point of view these are our future leaders. In my opinion, young managers have something new to offer - they personify innovation and creativity. Our role is to nurture these talents.
In my own case, I have been lucky to have had great mentors and bosses who trusted me and gave me the chance to develop my career. The early turning-point was a year's scholarship from the Worshipful Company of Stationers in the late 1980s to study around the globe a subject that, at the time, was only just emerging. It was called geographical information systems (GIS). I wrote a report on how GIS could be used in organisations throughout the world to reduce costs and drive efficiency. Ultimately, the experience helped me become director general of Ordnance Survey at the age of 37.
We encourage young managers in many different ways at Ordnance Survey. We have a programme for identifying and nurturing the leadership talent we need as a 21st-century information business. In encouraging these motivated individuals to stretch themselves, we are helping to ensure the future health of our business. It's a two-way commitment. We expect those who are successful to devote time, energy and enthusiasm to the programme; in return, we give them extensive training to improve their own impact on the business.
But young managers want even more than clear direction and leadership. We must give them the tools they need in order to achieve. Thanks to laptops and mobiles, about half the respondents in the institute's survey are comfortable with the idea of flexible, remote working. An overriding enthusiasm for web 2.0 technology also comes through clearly in the research. About 75% of the under-25s surveyed regularly use the social networking site Facebook. Employers therefore need to embrace new communications channels to properly engage with their aspiring recruits.
This is a far cry from the way previous generations operated. When I went to university, undergraduates were generally in awe of lecturers, tutors and professors. Now, students are much more likely to question and give feedback on both the value of topics included in lectures and the delivery style of a lecturer.
The same goes for graduates challenging employers. Young people are more likely to ask employers about work/life balance, green credentials and sports facilities than '20-30 year prospects'; and of course they are, thankfully, much less deferential.
I believe the future world of work is going to be more like a community than the management set-ups we know now. It will be about getting teams to work together with better communications and clearer expectations among individuals. That way, young managers will continue to achieve fabulous results.
Unlike the exasperated CEO at the staff meeting, employers will have to recognise that everyone has a unique and valid insight and deserves to be heard.
CV: Vanessa Lawrence is director general and chief executive of Ordnance Survey. She is the adviser to the British Government on mapping, surveying and geographic information, chair of the United Kingdom Agency Chief Executives' Association, chair of the GI Panel, a member of the board of directors of the Open Geospatial Consortium, and a patron of two charities: MapAction and the Cure Parkinson's Trust.
The executive summary of Generation Y: Unlocking the talent of younger managers can be downloaded free of charge at www.managers.org.uk/generationY.