Bridging the Generation Gap by Optimizing the Differences
OK, you're quickly discovering that there's an ever widening gulf between your company's Boomer Bosses and Millennial Newcomers; or equally problematic, between your young staff and your Boomer customers.
It's creating increasing levels of internal discord, customer dissatisfaction (or worse, loss of some of your highest spending customers, Boomers), and lost productivity through either high staff turn-over or time taken away from growing your business to handle conflicts.
Although consistent personnel/customer conflicts aren't always generationally based, if you find that a majority of those in your company are consistently centered on the following issues :
Communication style (high-tech vs. low-tech; formal vs. informal; individualism vs. team approach)…
Workplace expectations (work/service ethic; dress; career demands such as flex-time)…
…then most likely you're in the midst of the cutting-edge generation gap issue that is now being addressed by companies from Coca-Cola to Microsoft.
But even if you have identified it as a generationally based, you have no clue what to do about it.
This will get you started using two basic steps: the first fosters improved understanding between the disagreeing parties on which all conflict resolution is based; the second uses that higher-level awareness to take the differences from polarizing, to productivity power-houses!
First Step: Uncover and then Work from their common ground
Here's what Boomers and Millennials have in common, often without realizing it:
Appreciation of a win-win outcome:
both generations prefer to get their own needs met without having to sacrifice the others'
Need to see the value of their contribution to the company/end result:
both prefer to work from a vision, a sense of being valued for their knowledge or specific skill sets, and like being a part of the decision-making process regardless of level
A desire to be seen as the best at what they do:
don't let the differences in the way they go about it fool you; Boomers may show this through working longer hours whereas Millennials may pride themselves more on their creativity, but both have the same pride in their end work product at heart
Appreciation for flexibility (how that flexibility is played out is where the conflict usually arises) :
here again style may overshadow substance, so it is easy to miss the way each uses and values versatility
Both want to know “what's in it for me”:
Boomers are known as the “me” generation, Millennials the “everybody gets a trophy” group, but as you can see, each has at it's base the desire to have one's own specific needs met, so once understood, both can appreciate that in the other.
Second Step: Apply their Similarities to Optimize their Differences
Each One Teach One (#'s1, 2 & 3):
Folks are much more willing to learn something if they also get to teach – it is an explicit demonstration of their value and expertise. At every level of the organizational chart, and with any major difference, have each generation teach the other their particular skill-set/strength that is missing for the other.
Example 1: Boomers are late onto the technology field, and Millennials consider their IT as another appendage; M's have not learned the more traditional modes of communication such as writing in long-hand and formal etiquette that to Boomers is second nature. Each can mentor the other for great outcomes on both ends
Example 2: Boomers in your business know what Boomer customers want…Millennials know what they're cohort responds to. And each side prides themselves on their value to the company. So let that value play a key role in improved service outcomes by designing service/sales trainings with each generation teaching the other what they'll need to know to be successful with the opposite group, for practice, feed-back, and help with follow-up refining as needed
One For You, Two For Me (#'s 1 & 5):
This is a “built for a ‘what's in it for me' type” compromise technique…Each side of the generation gap gives the other one important thing the other wants, in return getting two of the things they want. As you can see, if done back and forth just once it's now “even” – but each gets the most important things to them and everyone wins
Flexing for Dollars (#4):
This is based on the simple but well-known “exceptional leadership” practice of looking at whether goals are being met instead of how an individual staff-person goes about meeting them. If I seem to always have a messy desk (in your opinion) but I outsell everyone else in my group, then that approach is clearly not causing a problem and what works for me!
An example of the generational differences in types of flexibility might be:
flex their schedule as needed to get the job done but within the office hours and on-site
flex around in and out of office time such as telecommuting & 4 day weeks
As the song from the 70's put it so well: “Nobody's right if everybody's wrong…” It's important to get away from whose approach is “right” and move to what works best for who to get the best outcome, period
Walk a moment in my shoes (#'s3 & 5):
Getting each generation beyond their preferred modus operandi so they can see the immense value the other brings to the company table is the key here. Here's how to do that. Schedule a “Talkin' ‘bout My Generation” kind of event, one that's fun but with serious intent. Have each group make the strongest argument they can for why that “generational style” is superior…but they must do it for the other generation. Each makes a presentation, as they would to a client, on what the other's generational style adds to the bottom-line, and why they think it's the best approach in which specific set of circumstances. Those from that generation then must critique it from the other generation's perspective. There's no better way to have a full understanding the value the other brings than to argue their case… By the way, this is done in law schools across the land to give law students a full understanding of the law from all sides.
Finally, the responsibility for getting cross-generational crankiness in check lies with both groups, not one moreso than the other, to the contrary of some well publicized news reports on this issue. They have insinuated that the greatest burden for change falls on the Boomer bosses….not so, although as leaders they must take the first steps and then model the best-practice approaches for conflict resolution. We've gotten you started with the contents of this report. Here's your generational check-list for future remedies:
For Boomer Leaders ...
...Be very clear about the benefits of working for the company, and you –you would want the same information
if you were your staff…
...Have a vision and keep it in front of your staff – like you, younger workers need that to be inspired
...What you focus on is what you get - if you focus on the negatives, you'll foster them; focus on the
positives and you'll get a whole lot more of them!
For Millennials ...
...Don't buy the myth that jumping from job to job is a good thing...it's not and will come back to haunt
...Be the best at what you do - that's what gets you ahead, not empty "star" quality
...You too must focus on the positives with your Boomer boss, not the negatives - you get
what you focus on
For Both ...
...This is the window of time to pass on/learn from the expertise Boomers have acquired over the
decades - take advantage of it before it's gone.
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