In business today, we are experiencing a phenomenon that has never happened before. Unlike history where a job was for life and individuals worked within peer groups of like-minded, like-experienced, like-educated colleagues, our business buddies now cover a wide generational span. This isn’t going to go away. So long as the pressures of financial and fiscal demand remain, we will remain at work and work until we drop!
Zemke et at have looked into this phenomenon and have derived actions that can avoid the clash, actions that can even make our cross-generational business better. Let’s dig in.
The Generation Game
Zemke comes up with the following generational groups.
- The Traditionalists: Those born before 1943 who grew up in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II and faced the world with a can-do attitude.
- The Baby Boomers: Those born 1943 to 1960 during and after World War II and raised in an era of extreme optimism, opportunity, and progress.
- Generation Xers: Those born 1960 to 1980 after the blush of the Baby Boom who came of age deep in the shadows of the Boomers and the rise of the Asian tiger.
- Millennials: Those born 1980 to 2004 born of the Baby Boomers and early Xers into a culture where children were cherished, nurtured, and protected.
The four generations—Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, and Millennials—have unique work ethics, different perspectives on work, distinct and preferred ways of managing and being managed, idiosyncratic styles, and unique ways of viewing such work-world issues as quality, service, and, well…just showing up for work. Let’s look more closely at these generational perspectives.
Derived from their macro-economic background, Traditionalists, as the name suggests has strong work ethics. They are dedicated, make sacrifice for the greater good, are hard working conformists, and respect law, order and authority. They are also patient in the receipt of reward, putting duty before pleasure and pay any price to deliver success.
Traditionalists like consistency and uniformity. Traditionalists like things on a grand scale. They believe in logic, not magic. They are disciplined. They are past oriented and history absorbed. They tend to view a job as something to have over the long haul. Traditionalists tend to get satisfaction from the work itself (though that satisfaction tends to come from doing a job well, rather than from seeing extraordinary meaning in the work they do).
While these traits are advantageous, they are often the focus of conflict with the other generations.
Baby Boomers say, “They’re dictatorial. They’re rigid. They need to learn flexibility and adapt better to change. They are inhibited. They’re technological dinosaurs. They are narrow-minded.”
Gen Xers say, “They’re too set in their ways. Learn how to text, man! They’ve got all the money.”
Millennials say, “They are trustworthy. They are good leaders. They are brave.”
Want to motivate a Traditionalist? Try some of these tactical statements:
- “Your experience is respected here.”
- “It’s valuable to the rest of us to hear what has—and hasn’t—worked in the past.”
- “Your perseverance is valued and will be rewarded.”
It’s not unusual to find Traditionalists in senior leadership roles. There they tend toward a directive style. To them, command-and-control leadership and executive decision-making was a good system—simple, clear, and evident, without all the complexities of getting the masses involved. It got things done, and produced legendary leaders like Patton, MacArthur, and Lombardi.
The Baby Boomers
Emerging from post WW2, Baby Boomers are an optimistic group, maturing in an age where technology, fashion and politics moved at a rapid pace. Boomers are more engaged in social issues than the generations before them by dint of growing up in the 60’s.
Boomers believe in growth and expansion. They are self-centred. The overall feeling of optimism and promise they were raised to take for granted – to see as their birthright – has had a tremendous impact on the developing psyche of the Baby Boomers. They have pursued their own gratification, often at a high price to themselves and others. If they didn’t like the job they dumped it and moved on.
Boomers have a team orientation yet seek personal gratification, health and wellness. They are service-oriented, willing to go the extra mile yet uncomfortable with conflict. Yet they are not always a favourite of other generations.
Traditionalists say they talk about things that should remain private. They are self-absorbed.
Gen Xers say they are sensitive to internal politics, talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Millennials say they are good role models but should lighten up.
A motivational message for a Boomer?
- “You are important to our success”
- “You are valued here”
- “Be all you can be”
- “We need you”
Generation X never really inherited the spotlight from the previous generation – the boomers. It’s a lost generation, one that didn’t register until recently. Gen Xers mentality was shaped by survival in a cynical extreme and solitary world. They learned to take care of themselves. Now being a survivor is a well sought trait.
As outsiders, Gen Xers are nomadic who could work for an organisation but never belong. Now however they are putting down roots and becoming emerging leaders. Gen Xers have diversity, think globally, have balance and are technically literate. They have fun, are informal yet have a pragmatic undercurrent. Gen Xers are self-reliant, growing up in an economic DMZ looking after number 1. They want balance between work and pleasure, between time and space. They have a casual approach to authority – not bothered – leading at times to cynicism. As can be anticipated from their maverick stance, Gen Xers are not always liked.
To Traditionalists, they don’t follow the rules. To Boomers they are slackers. To Millennials there are isolated goths.
Want to motivate a Gen Xer? Say, “ I don’t care how you get it done” and “I’m not going to micromanage you”
They’re the first generation to grow up immersed in digital media. Two-thirds of them used computers before the age of five. They are connected 24/7 to friends, parents, information, and entertainment. Accustomed to being the center of attention, they have high expectations and clear goals. They are willing to work hard and expect to have the support they need to achieve.
Millennial core values include optimism, confidence and a sense of civic duty. They were raised knowing they were wanted, sought-after, needed, indispensable. They admire integrity, they think education is cool, and they see their parents as role models. They believe in the future and see themselves as leaders and advocates of change.
Millennials are collaborative. They were taught to solve problems as a group. They view themselves as more collectively powerful than older generations. They are able to work together to define a clear collective mission and ambitious goals—and then send a text, IM, or Facebook message to rally their peers.
They are diverse. Those who grew up in the past two decades have had more daily interaction with other ethnicities and cultures than ever before. And as such, they are confident. Further, they have been told they’re special—that they carry the potential for greatness—since they were little tykes. Again inter-generational conflict exists.
Traditionalists say they need to toughen up. They don’t respect tradition.
Baby Boomers say they’re tethered to their cell phones. They’re inexperienced.
Gen Xers say they’re unrealistic. Here we go again. Another generation of spoiled brats.
Want to motivate a Millennial? Try some of these tactical statements:
- “You can make a difference here.”
- “You will have a clear career path so you can keep moving ahead.”
Where Mixed Generations Work Well Together
More than a few organizations are tapping into the positive potential of generationally diverse workforces. They are harnessing the power in the convergence of diverse viewpoints, passions, and talents. There are two keys to creating a successful intergenerational workforce: aggressive communication and difference deployment.
In aggressive communication, potential generational conflicts are anticipated and surfaced. The energy of behind-the-back complaining, passive–aggressive behavior, and open hostility is rechanneled to projects that can profit from different points of view, particularly the fresh perspectives of the young and the wisdom of experience.
They take the time to talk openly about what the different cohorts and the individuals within them are looking for on the job: What makes work rewarding? Which environments are most productive? What types of work load, schedules, and policies contribute to an attractive workplace?
Difference deployment is, simply, the tactical use of employees with different backgrounds, experiences, skills, and viewpoints to strengthen project teams. Generationally savvy organizations value the differences between people and look at differences as strengths. Generationally balanced workgroups—balanced not in quotas, but in a psychic sense—respect and learn from yesterday’s experiences, understand today’s pressures, dilemmas, and needs, and believe that tomorrow will be different still. They are comfortable with the relative rather than absolute nature of a situation, knowledge, skill, value, and, most of all, solutions to problems.
From little ACORNS…..
To pull this all together, Zemke et al have come up with an acronymic action plan they call “The ACORN Imperatives” five operating ideas that nurture and grow oak-strong organizations.
Accommodate employee differences.
Generationally friendly of companies treat their employees as they do their customers. They learn all they can about them, work to meet their specific needs, and serve them according to their unique preferences.
Generationally friendly companies allow the workplace to shape itself around the work being done, the customers being served, and the people who work there. They recognize that people from a mix of generations have differing needs and preferences, and they design their human resources strategies to meet varied employee needs.
Operate from a sophisticated management style.
Generationally friendly managers don’t have much time for B.S., although they are tactful. They give those who report to them the big picture, with specific goals and measures, and then they turn their people loose—giving them feedback, rewards, and recognition as appropriate. Their leadership style is situationally varied. They depend on personal influence rather than positional power.
Respect competence and initiative.
They treat everyone, from the newest recruit to the most seasoned employee, as if they have great things to offer and are motivated to do their best These companies hire carefully and do much to assure a good match between people and work. But they seem never to forget that they hired the best possible people for a reason—so that they will endeavor to do the best possible job.
Generationally friendly companies are concerned and focused on making their workplaces magnets for excellence. They know that keeping their people is every bit as important in today’s economy as finding and retaining customers. Therefore, they offer lots of training. They spend time learning how to become the employer of choice in their industry and region, and they continually “sell the benefits” to retain the best and brightest of their employees.
Best Practices and Other Great Ideas (from the real world)
PepsiCo’s global corporate volunteerism program, PepsiCorps, was initiated from the ground up by a group of employees who sought to bring PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose mission to life. The program deploys employees on month-long assignments to tackle global challenges. It’s a great experience for employees, a boon to local communities, and a contributor to business objectives. Moreover, it helps with talent development, retention, and recruitment.
MITRE Corporation in Bedford, MA, allows employees to “change jobs without changing employers.” This initiative encourages internal transfers and encourages managers to offer 8 to 10 percent of staff an opportunity to transfer to a new job inside the company each year. Workers of all ages move laterally and gain broader experience.
KPMG has a website dedicated to mentoring. Every manager has a protégé, every young worker is expected to have a mentor, and people in the middle often have both. Social activities like lunches, softball games, and happy hours are advertised on the mentoring website to encourage informal networking. KPMG also gives time off for community service. These practices have helped reduce turnover from 25 to 18 percent in the last five years.
A Final Call to Action.
To be generationally savvy try the following generic activities.
- Offer reverse mentoring programs in which younger employees help older ones adapt to new technologies.
- Study the generational composition of your workforce and use that information to guide HR strategies.
- Match the generational composition of your workforce to the generational composition of your customer base.
- Reward managers for retaining the people who report to them. Managers are rewarded by the organization for many things, but usually not for employee retention.
You may also like to read:
- When Millennials Take Over by Maddie Grant Jamie Notter
- When Millennials Take Over by Maddie Grant Jamie Notter
- Your Exit Map by John Dini
- The Best Team Wins by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton
- Happy Hour is 9 to 5 by Alexander Kjerulf
- Want to Start a Business? Try a Franchise Maybe.
- Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
- Willpower Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy