In business, we always have challenges and problems that dog us for a while, then we solve them and forget about them. Well, this would be the normal process with idolism, too. This issue, however, seems to be a tough one, and the business community seems unable to solve it.
The lack of a solution, obviously, has exacerbated the problem, and now we have come to a point where devising and implementing ‘idol management’ is a crucial factor to a business’s success.
Why should we fixate on this?
Usually, this is the first response we get when we point out the fact that the success of enterprises today basically depends on how idolism is managed. Naturally, like in every claim that a lot of people make, there is some truth in this. History also shows that people have always liked to follow icons and leaders and they have believed in ‘great’ people. Similarly, today it is just self-evident that there are acknowledged and respected people in business, and there are less illustrious ones. Why should we be so ‘obsessed’ with this, then? The key to the whole process is generational differences. If you want to understand idolism, you need to be aware of the timeline of successive generations. Unfortunately, the traditional approach that differentiates between ‘X, Y and Z’ generations is not a very useful one globally, and in Europe, and more specifically in the post-Communist region, it does more harm than good. In scientific literature, ‘generation X’ is defined as people born between 1965 and 1980 (however, we must note that not every publication uses the same terms, unfortunately). Regarding this period, a Hungarian example can simply illustrate why this traditional approach to generations is totally misleading. A person born in 1965 graduated in 1988, meaning he/she completed his/her education in the Communist era, with all its ‘advantages’ and disadvantages. IT skills, English skills, up-to-date knowledge about economics – there is a long list of areas where there are great differences between this person in the example and, say, a person born in 1980 in terms of education, qualifications, and knowledge. Another aspect is that international companies that fundamentally rely on and require the above-mentioned skills came to Hungary at the same time when people born in the first half of the 1970s completed their education, so international companies that had just come to Hungary recruited primarily from this generation. This means that the members of ‘generation X’, so far considered a great and uniform generation, can be divided into at least two distinct groups in terms of business success potential.
Even without additional examples, we can say that there are such ‘pitfalls’ regarding every generational period. This has prompted several companies that are involved in corporate strategy-building to conduct generational research, so that the strategies that they devise and their clients implement won’t have these pitfalls and will provide a clearer picture, since in case of the decision-making process of clients, assigning them to accurate generational categories is very important. 3B’s generational periods are of equal length and are shorter than the ones used in the traditional approach: we use 12-year terms when we define target groups and 4-year terms for strategy-building. Moreover – since we use a personality and behaviour-based technology – we add so-called ‘personality charges’ to the specific periods to illustrate the decision-making tendencies of the given age group. As a result, the generation periods of the target groups most frequently used in strategies are the following:
1949-1960 supporter 3 (authoritative)
1961-1972 expert 1 (precise)
1973-1984 individual 1 (diplomat)
1985-1996 ruler 3 (aiming for power)
1997-2008 supporter 1 (social)
2009-2020 expert 2 (principled)
Business exposure to the ruler generation
After this brief diversion into generational theory, it is much easier to understand why idol management today is completely different from anything it has been in the past 50 years – and this is the ‘fault’ of the ruler generation (rising to power). Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to business, this is probably my favourite generation, but it’s a fact that they are the ones that have made the whole process precarious. There was a turning point earlier, when the individual generation assumed decision-making roles in business, but undoubtedly it was the ruler generation that has made these changes complete. Obviously, these two generations grew up in the world of television talent shows and superheroes. Films about superheroes didn’t ‘do any good’ to the process of idolism in the first place, but what changed business for good was that the majority of the 35-46 and 23-34 age groups, many of whom are now in decision-making positions, saw lots of everyday people (best case scenario: real talents) rise and become huge stars in ‘no time’ (10-12 weeks). In idolism trainings I often cite the example of Jennifer Hudson, who first appeared in a talent show in the US and within a few short years of her first – rather unsophisticated – audition performance she became an Academy Award-winning actor, with the world at her feet. Well, if young people see that no-name people can become millionaires and stars in no time (and it’s not just a few exceptional cases, there have been dozens, hundreds, or even a thousand such cases), it obviously has a significant influence on them as they plan and assess their career. Of course, talent shows also emphasise that, in fact, everything depends on mentors and helpers: in other words, the way from obscurity to stardom is through an idol, every time. Moreover, you need to choose this idol carefully, as he/she will manage the first steps of the aspiring star, and we have seen how different the achievements of equally talented persons with similar opportunities can be, just because of the quality difference between the idols they chose. Every young person is familiar with Simon Cowell, who is producing these stars for international pop music almost as if on a production line. Or take Cardi B, the young female rapper who is driving the US crazy (in a positive sense, obviously): she is the ‘product’ of a reality show, and this week she is in 3 of the first 4 places of Spotify’s download list, and young people from the East Coast to the West Coast are chanting this superstar’s explicit lyrics of this superstar, who used to have a very serious job (she was a stripper). It’s highly unlikely that she could have ever been an idol for the generation who is now 60 – she wouldn’t even have been discovered, she couldn’t even have shown herself. (You decide which generation is better off as a result of this.) There is, however, no doubt that members of the ruler generation want to learn from perfectly successful people in business. They all want to find their own little ‘Simon’ who can bring out the best in them. Moreover, the ruler (i.e. leadership) personality traits are prevalent in these young people, who feel that the biggest advantage of the generations before them is that they were in the right place at the right time and that it is, at the most, the amount of their experience that puts these generations above them; and thinking this way they are just adding fuel to the fire. Today, it is rather difficult for the 23-34 age group to accept someone as an idol, while there is an increasing number of economic sectors where it is unacceptable not to have this generation. IT is especially famous for this: it is often calculated that tens of thousands of young employees are missing from this sector in Hungary alone. It is not surprising that employers are fighting hard for the available workforce — and in this fight, the weapon of idolism beats everything. And now the same can be said about some parts of the financial sector, about construction, media, and even our profession, business development. Who could afford to do without the generation that grew up in the world of social media? This means that if a business wants to be successful in a given sector, it needs to adapt to them — at least in terms of idolism. I believe that there are several industries that are now exposed to idolism, and this vulnerability will increase over time and will spread over almost all business areas.
The ideal generation: the individuals
Why is it so important for the ruler generation to have an idol? Many say that the members of this generation are greedy and impatient, and want everything immediately: a career, material assets, and success. I would put it differently, though: a lot of them do have skills and knowledge that could put them on the fast track. And surely, members of the individual generation before them landed top positions at a very young age and will stay there for a long time. If I just look at my career, when I started working as a young manager, if you had results, you could climb the career ladder relatively easily. This is how I became the director at a multinational company at the age of 23. Because directors were over 50 at the time, you could expect that international headquarters would prefer young and dynamic, yet experienced leaders. Nowadays people at the start of their career see managers in their 30s and 40s in executive and top executive positions. They are obviously well aware that they have almost no chance to get into such positions in large organisations while those who are currently there have at least 25-30 years before retirement. As a result, (since they obviously have financial needs as well) they want to stand on their own feet as soon as possible, and the most talented young people want to start their own business as soon as they can: this brings about a huge change and puzzles economic operators greatly. Here is where idols come in, as this emerging generation wants to learn from them and want to get the recipe of success from them. As a result, these young people only stay at companies where these expectations are met – moreover, it is how they choose such companies in the first place. A lot of people complain that the members of this generation go and find work abroad so there are no good professionals left in Hungary; I don’t agree with this, either. Young people who are really good and have the character of a leader pursue success here in their homeland. A survey we conducted with a sample of 1,000 clearly showed that in reality it is the people with weaker characters that see working abroad as their only chance for success. Those who are really strong can make their way to the top here in their native land as well. This, of course, also means that (for the reasons mentioned above) the strongest and most talented members of the ruler generation would prefer working for an emerging and successful Hungarian company, where it was the owner himself/herself who has built a successful company, and where the owner can be their idol. At a multinational company, this is a more difficult question to begin with, especially in an absolutely centralised system where young people cannot assign a specific face to their future boss. Moreover, they think that many managers at multinational companies are merely ‘good soldiers’ with knowledge that is of no use to them. Owners and leaders at Hungarian companies, especially those from older generations (experts or supporters over 47) cannot provide a real solution for them, either, since the fact that someone was successful ‘in their day’ doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she can be successful in the modern world as well. Of course, there are always refreshing exceptions: there are managers over 50 who beat the most modern young person with their innovations and thinking, but this is not typical. Unsurprisingly, we have found that for members of the ruler generation, the most idolised generation is the individual generation, and our headhunting and recruitment experience substantiates this. Most exceptionally talented young professionals who are looking for idols from whom they can learn end up at companies where the owner is from this generation. At these companies, they can find and learn relevant and modern business skills, an international approach and networking technologies, while the leader in his/her 40s often has 20 years of relevant leadership and business management experience, and these young people are ready to take it all in, as, combined with what they have learned, it will provide them with powerful knowledge in a short time.
More about professional knowledge
Members of the ruler generation have pretty clear ideas about the personality of idols. They want to become businesspeople, so they need the character of the real businessperson; moreover, they think in the long term, so they want to learn how to survive in the long run. From what we see in our business development projects, it is clear that the ruler and the individual types are the ones that can become idols for young people the most easily: the first with their strong-mindedness and leadership skills, the latter with their perfect and persuasive communication and creativity. However, becoming an idol is not enough, it only brings short-term success for the company. Staying an idol is a more difficult task, for this, an expert approach is a must. This means that the personality traits of a real idol who can deliver in the long term must include, besides the ruler or individual character, an expert component. Not everyone likes the way I think, even less the way I communicate, as I always say what is beneficial in a business development project and what it is that can ruin it. Of course, with the latter we will inevitably hurt some people; this is inherent to the method in which we say about someone that he/she is unsuitable. As a strategist, however, I am responsible for the success of our partners; and in my publications I cannot mislead my readers.
I didn’t mention the supporter type among the idol categories, as this personality trait is not a success factor in modern business sector, at least not according to the ruler generation’s image of idols. So, what happens when the owner of a company happens to be a supporter? (There is a good chance for this, as this generation accounts for almost 70% of the Hungarian population.) In this case, bringing in an idol is a must if we want to ensure success. This is the only option, since otherwise young people will not stay at the company in the long term, or they will even avoid it, which is a huge competitive disadvantage in today’s economic environment. Economic operators realise this more and more quickly. The smallest Hungarian enterprises were the first to put idol-like managers in leadership positions, and now an increasing number of large corporations and multinational companies are following suit. Naturally, idol-like leaders of the past are more than suitable for managing businesses ‘of the past’, but when it comes to new orientations and new markets, you should not rely on them. When a consultant tells this to the clients, their responses vary (depending on their temperaments), but it doesn’t make it any less true. And yes, there still are multinational companies that can afford not to keep up with trends, but the time will come when they will have to change, too. I manage development projects at companies of different sizes, and I can see how the decision-makers’ approach is evolving in this area. I believe there is reason to say that 2018 will be the year of idol management.
As a result of the above, idol management has become an independent area of business development, and it is a complex program. In Hungary, it is still in its early stages, but if I take a look at my projects abroad, it is clear that even there this topic and its management is still a novelty. What does idol management involve specifically? The program is based on the evaluation of the suitability of the organisation (primarily the personality of the leaders) according to idol criteria. The training of suitable leaders is based on this. This is a complex program in itself, and it is always based on the personality of the potential idol, followed by managing how talents are attracted and retained and by creating an identity, which involves ‘building’ leaders, as you can’t have an ‘ordinary’ person as an idol. Finally, there are communication tasks, which mostly focus on social media, and which bring together and follow the whole development process. This is, in fact, complex social media service, which, in addition to registration and profiles on the different channels, also includes the comprehensive management of the given social media channel. Of course, to quote myself, this is not rocket science: all you need to do is to bring together a proper team of specialists and make this team available to your client. This, however, is also a catch-22. If we take the 3B team, about 80% of the team working in idol management is from the ruler generation: who would be better at building identity through social media and at designing motivational elements that are important for the ruler generation than the members of this generation themselves? This obviously doesn’t mean that young people rule the world. Without experience, without the presence of the older generation in business, there is still no success. However, the business community must accept that if they want to keep up with the best, they need idols, and idols are not ‘self-generated’. Some people have the potential for this, but as Hungarians normally don’t praise themselves, you must get familiar with the methods and techniques that are necessary for becoming an idol, and you must learn how to apply them to others. Hungarian owners and top decision-makers must start bearing the responsibility of cultivating the next generation of idols before it is too late. Even if it may sound like a cliché, it is true for this situation: we are somewhere in the 11th hour.