If you’re reading about workplace trends, or leadership in organizations, it’s likely that you are reading plenty about the challenge of managing in a multigenerational environment. A few years back, one of my direct reports left our business because she believed that she could no longer communicate with her younger subordinates. In her mind, they rejected or challenged the methodology that underpinned a successful organization without legitimate right or reason. Conflict rather than progress defined her staff which was unacceptable to her, therefore, she chose to leave and pursue other opportunities.
Today’s economic reality is one where older, skilled workers are postponing retirement; those employed are staying in their current positions to ride out a slow economic recovery and younger workers find themselves competing for a limited number of open positions. This has created today’s workplace reality: managers are dealing with four generations of workers with different ethical perspectives, operational preferences and communication styles. In short – they don’t always get one another.
Just to level set, these are the four generations in today’s workplace:
- Traditionalists, born prior to 1946
- Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
- Gen X, born between 1965 and 1976, and
- Millennials, born between 1977 and 1997
It’s important to note that a generation is not so much defined by age but by the common experiences shared by each respective cohort that shape values and preferences. For example, Traditionalists grew up after the Great Depression with World War II as a major childhood event. In their view it’s a privilege to work and their work ethic is grounded in discipline, consistency and experience. Baby Boomers experienced the cold war, space race, revolutionary social change and the evolution of rock music. They are optimistic, idealistic and motivated – even driven – by success. The tech-savvy Generation X are a much smaller generation defined by their experiences as latch-key children with two working parents and families with high divorce rates. As a result, Gen X’ers are distrustful of authority, independent and creative. Millennials (or Generation Y) experienced terrorist attacks in their formative years and technology has always been a part of their lives. They present as confident, team players who are social minded and, since their parents typically planned their activities, accustomed to and comfortable with structured lives (Source: SHRM Research Quarterly – First Quarter 2009). Clearly, a “one size fits all” management strategy is now not fit at all.
Research indicates that a manager (or company) must be able to leverage the skills and strengths of each generation to be successful while neutralizing generational differences. Understanding that everyone has a right to a point of view and utilizing active listening skills to hear that point of view goes a long way to minimizing miscommunications, misunderstanding and unproductive conflict.
An approach to this is to encourage your staff to focus on organizational goals and objectives rather than emotions and differences. Keeping staff centered on the mission while ensuring that everyone’s informed opinions are valued will go a long way to making progress and achieving objectives.
The key takeaways here are these:
- Establish the embrace and appreciation of diversity of thought as a key value of your organization. You can use this value to minimize conflict and maximize collaboration
- Be specific and clearly articulate your team’s goals and business issues and ensure alignment and understanding
- Focus on results achieved rather than how they are achieved as long as the means are ethical and well developed
- Acknowledge the other’s point of view even if you don’t agree. A different, thoughtful, point of view is valuable input and feedback that can be used constructively.
If I had it to do over again and knew then what I know now, I would have coached the manager on my team who left the business due to multigenerational team conflict to keep focus on goals and objectives while appreciating that there are many ways to achieve them. Establishing a forum to explore the efficacy of the status quo and new approaches can ensure that your team continues to make progress and be successful.
Real Leadership Associates’ mentoring, adjutant and change management services can assist you with your communications strategy and management approach. Contact Beth
if you would like more information.
In spite of this cold, snowy ,weather, I can feel Spring coming and I am so looking forward to it. Enjoy!