As I write this I am sitting in quaint little coffee shop on Liverpool’s main street, one minutes walk from The Cavern where it all started for The Beatles. As I watch people walk by on what is a rare clear yet chilly day, it is very apparent that one is either blue or red in this city. The tribal colours of Everton and Liverpool are within easy sighting whether one looks at the people or the stores. From cab drivers to store attendants, everyone has an opinion about the aspirations of their team and an assessment of ‘the other half’. It seems the one thing that unites the tribes here is a mutual hatred of the Manchester reds. I can live with that but let’s move on shall we! The 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy is fresh with the official memorial tomorrow whilst all the Premiership games delayed kick-off by seven minutes this past weekend as a sign of respect and remembering. Football in this part of the world is taken seriously and as a cabbie told me earlier, “it doesn’t matter who you support here; everybody has been marked by the death of the 96” (referring to the 96 Liverpool fans crushed to death on that fateful April day in 1989).
In this city your colours define loyalty and yet there is a unique bond that runs deeper in a city of blue and red. All this got me thinking about ‘loyalty’ in business. It is a term often bandied about and I suspect, used on occasion to manipulate. It is a term that has been defined by one generation as meaning committed over the long haul – longevity; yet that same definition for another younger generation, makes little sense. It is a term in desperate need of re-definition for what is meant by ‘loyalty’ across two generations is like ‘red’ and ‘blue’ in this city in which I find myself.
If one applies the older definition of loyalty as being longevity in a particular job or for a company, a younger generation cannot be regarded as loyal. Their loyalty is generally to themselves and not any company or brand. They will move at a moments notice and for reasons than make little sense to others. This can partly be explained by the impact of watching the older generation ‘preach loyalty’ and practice loyalty and then, with economic turmoil, be ejected by those to whom they had ‘been loyal’. This made a lasting impression on those watching and it bred the perspective that loyalty in exchange for ‘job security’ was at best a myth and at worse, a blatant lie. They would have none of it. In addition to this life lesson they were witnesses too, came the inbuilt need for ‘change’. They have change wired into their very DNA and so, being ‘loyal’ makes little sense to them – a generation who seldom follow through by building careers based on their line of study. Statistics out of Europe have shown that by 30 years of age, 72% of graduates are no longer working in the field in which they graduated. That is a massive shift from the ‘way it used to be’ – it is a huge departure from the world that provided us with the definition of ‘loyalty’. You can see the problem!
We need fresh conversations around what loyalty is, how it will be practiced and how we can measure it. While we are at it, it also might be a good idea to discuss how it will be rewarded! Loyalty in this city of Liverpool goes deeper that tribal colours. It was redefined by tragedy and there is a lesson for the corporate world in how it understands and practices loyalty; the current generational dichotomy demands a deeper exploration of this important subject.