Bridging The Generation Gap

Managing a team can be challenging at the best of times, but when you have a team that is spanning the ages from Generation Y to baby boomers and everything in between, life can be very complicated indeed. That is because different age groups respond differently to the things that you say or do. What works well for one age group is absolutely wrong for another. Thus working with a multi-generational team can be a minefield. To help cope with this environment, you have to start by understanding each generational group.

First of all, you have to start with respect. A baby boomer respects a person because it is automatic. They respect people who are older than them because that is the way that they were brought up. Now with Generation X, we have found that respect is a form of being polite. They recognize that is it not automatic, but they recognize that there is a status that must be maintained. But the Gen Y’s are completely different. They will only respect you if it is earned. This has enormous implications if you are a boss. In many ways, if you are managing baby boomers, you could lead them by edicts, memos and policies. But when you are leading Gen Y’s, you have to lead by example. They will say to you, “If you do not do it, why should I? You have not earned my respect.”

Let us now talk about professional respect. In an organisation, a baby boomer respects another individual because of the length of their employment. Gen X will have respect for their peers and for their bosses based on performance. “What have you achieved? Have you really been able to turn this company around? Then, I will respect you because I have seen the performance that you have created.” Gen Y’s will respect people based on their qualifications – what courses they have done or what degrees they have achieved. That is a really big difference.

The other difference is change. Now I am stereotyping a little bit here; but I want to put these things into boxes so that you can see what is going on. Baby boomers resist change. “Why do we need to change? We have always done it this way.” Gen X accepts it. They actually realize that change is an inevitable part of business. They don’t always enjoy it but they won’t resist it; they will flow with it. Now Gen Y’s are complete different – they actually want change. They demand it. They say, “This organisation is not changing fast enough for me. All the things that we talked about at strategy, we are not doing. I am actually going to leave because we talk about it, but never do it.”

They love and embrace and want change. Change is part of their overall career progression.

The other thing that we need to know is how these generations view leadership. Baby boomers view leadership as hierarchical. You have the organisational structure; you have the organisational plan; you have the right title; you have the big office and so on. Now Gen Xs style is that you need to be with them to cooperate with them. Gen Ys idea of leadership starts with the spirit of collaboration. This can be very difficult for a Baby Boomer. They have never worked in a spirit of collaboration. Thus, to be a great leader to a Gen Y, you have to be a great coach.

The next area we need to talk about is training. A lot of organisations, because they are run by Baby Boomers, will only say they need training if there is a problem. Gen X desires training but the Gen Ys believe that part of their being with you is that there is going to be a focus on development and training of their skills. It is actually necessary and expected by a Gen Y.

Promotions are a really interesting one here. I have dealt with a lot of Gen Ys and they want to become CEOs in one year. Now Baby Boomers believe that you actually have to earn your stripes. That you have to do the hard yards and rise through the ranks for twenty years with no guarantee that you will actually get it. Gen X believes that promotion should be based on merit because it is a performance orientated. It is not based on how long you have been here but rather on what kind of results you have brought to the business. But a Gen Y believes that it is their God given right to be promoted. They cannot see that why at 21 years old that they cannot be managing.

Let us now discuss how to retain each generation. Now Baby Boomers want long term job security. They know that if they are out of a job now that they very well may not be able to find full-time employment again. It is really important to show your loyalty to them. That will give them a sense of belonging.

If I want to retain a Gen X, it is about short-term job security. You might say to them that you will keep them around for twenty years (now that is great for a Baby Boomer) but it is horrifying to a Gen X. They have no intention of staying in the same job for 20 years. A lot of Gen X take on projects for two to three years and then they want to outsource their talents and act like a consultant for a couple of years and then come back into the business world and then go back out.

How do you retain a Gen Y? Do you know what they want? Variety. They get bored really quickly. To a Gen Y they do not want to have the same job for 5 years doing the same thing. That, to them, is total boredom. They want supportive management that doesn’t direct them what to do but rather are there to support them when there is a problem. They want unharnessed room to show off their creativity and brilliance. They also want superfast promotions – like every six months.

It is really important that if you want to build a great business, you have to build a great team. The key is in understanding what the hot buttons are and being prepared to push them.

About Tony Gattari, Achievers Group

The author is founder and Chief Energy Officer of Achievers group. He is a much in demand passionate professional speaker, business educator, author and corporate, business advisor. He has worked with over 140 businesses around the world.

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