There is a general bias that exists when considering the relationship between a person’s age and their potential performance in a business. Age as an indicator of performance is a catch-all for a basket of traits, usually negative, that can influence performance. However, lumping all these traits together can only lead to poor decision-making weakening business performance.
Active Knowledge Question:
What generalisations are made in your business about how age impacts a person’s potential performance?
Too Old Or Too Young
In one of my recent posts, I considered the proposition that:
‘When you are young, they say you are too inexperienced to lead and be successful. When you are old, they say you are just ‘past it’, and not in touch with the modern world to achieve anything. And at both ends of this spectrum, and in between, they are just wrong. Success has nothing to do with age.‘
And I went on to submit:
‘Age is never a barrier to your ability to achieve unless you allow it to be. People of all ages achieve extraordinary success, and in many cases, just simple success. As an individual, and as a business leader, you should never allow generalisations about age to restrict your business’s or your individual success.
Your business’s success is dependent upon the combined talent and effort of everyone working within and with it. And therefore, you want the best working with the best at their best, irrelevant of their age. You want them for who they are and not how long they have been on this earth.’
So, when I read another recent press article reporting on a view that over when 60 years of age a person should not hold a senior board position, as their age renders them less able than a younger person, I thought we need to unpack this age bias.
Age as a default indicator of capability and performance is a bias that we must actively guard against. It not only affects recruitment and promotion, and therefore competitiveness, within businesses but also an individual’s sense of their abilities.
How do you guard against this bias?
Well, I think you turn your focus towards the attributes that underpin a person’s ability to perform, and you form your views against these attributes, not age. And as for the individual, you strengthen your performance levels by continually growing each of these attributes.
What’s In the Age Bias Bundle?
What type of views do you think may seed the age bias? It will likely vary from person to person and change as that person ages themselves, although older people also carry this bias as well.
Here some thoughts as to the types of beliefs that can populate this bias. You’re old so:
- You can’t work the long hours required in this position – your health is not up to it.
- You’re due to retire soon, so your commitment is not going to be there.
- You don’t have the desire to put in what is required to prove yourself and advance.
- Technology has passed you by – can’t teach old dogs new tricks.
- We need to make space for the younger people to advance, so please move on.
- You are out of touch, not up to date with society or its values.
- We can employ someone younger and cheaper – you’re overqualified.
- You’re not a cultural fit, this a young person’s game.
- You’re older than my parents, and I know what they are like.
Beliefs towards work and retirement are also a big influencer. Many people hold a view that you work and save so one day you can retire and enjoy life. This belief evidences how poorly ‘work’ is viewed, but also fuels the sense that the closer to retirement age, the less work you should be doing.
Of course, there have been studies of older workers that refute these beliefs and reflect that workers over 50+ are:
- Not resistant to change.
- Unlikely to leave the organisation.
- Less likely to miss work.
- Innovative and able to keep up with technology.
- The most engaged cohort of workers, and
- Their experience costs less than typically thought.
Also, the whole sense that performance lies in the number of hours you can work in a day, every day, feeds the need to recruit ‘fitter, stronger and younger’ workers. Of course, ‘younger equals stronger’ is not necessarily true, but more importantly, we have known for a long time that more hours do not lead to higher productivity. But we don’t seem to be able to shake that belief, and many people pride themselves on how many hours a day/week they can work.
Rest, in all its forms, is the counter-activity to focused work and is required to allow creativity, and simply intelligent work, to be harnessed and applied. We know that it is required to allow real value to be produced and therefore more hours on the ‘tools’ is not the correct response when seeking greater productivity.
What Influences Individual Performance?
Attitude seeds performance. Attitude will always outperform age.
It does not matter how young or old you are if you do not have the ‘right attitude’ your performance will always be less than you can contribute. In deciding whether someone will be able to deliver what you are looking for, look firstly to attitude, secondly to competencies and lastly to compatibility. The weighting I use is 60/30/10. You may be the most qualified and compatible person I’ve interviewed for a role, but if your attitude is not right, then nothing else matters.
And by attitude, I mean character traits and personal attributes that will underpin a person’s ability and willingness to contribute and to deliver their best performance every day. I describe this attitude as the ‘Achiever Trait’. Always select people on the presence of the achiever trait, and always seek to strengthen your own achiever trait.
The Achiever Trait describes a combination of characteristics that collectively represent the engine that underpins and drives the ability of any individual to be successful. This engine reflects the catalysts of success.
The achiever trait comprises three parts:
- The core which has an inner and outer ring. The inner ring is humility, and the outer ring is gratitude.
- The triad consisting of three elements – body, words and beliefs.
- The cloud representing your dreams, passions, imagination and the freedom you allow yourself to play with what is possible and what you love to do in life.
This is how I see these elements working together to form the Achiever Trait within a person:
- We are, at our core, humble people who are open to continual improvement and learning. We place others ahead of ourselves, thereby gaining their support and respect. We embrace and seek out change. ‘Better every day’ is our mantra.
- We have an attitude of gratitude, placing us in a positive disposition to see possibilities. We are givers, not takers. We always see the possibilities.
- We focus on our physical, mental and emotional health and always seek to strengthen these. Our body can deliver on the promises our spirit makes.
- We understand the power of words and are careful to craft our words to reinforce ourselves and those around us. We only speak, write, visualise and think in the positive.
- We recognise that our beliefs can both empower and disempower us and seek to recognise and influence their impact on our responses and decisions. We always reaffirm and embrace our positive beliefs and disown and closeout negative ones.
- We allow ourselves to play, to let our imagination loose, to dream of what could be and for all of this to feed into our goals and ambitions. We dream of the impossible to make them possible.
- We set ourselves up for success by establishing positive practices and habits and remove from our life those elements that will pull us down. We are process-focused in building the right habits.
In building a competitively fit business, recruit and retain people who exhibit the achiever trait. They will not only deliver personally but also uplift all those around them.
The age bias impacts both businesses and individuals. It does little to enhance their performance or competitiveness. Place it to one side and look to the real indicators of performance which, if present, will override any concerns about age.
Two other recent articles around the theme of business performance that may interest you:
An entirely new level of performance.
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All the best in the success of your business,