Can you manage different generations?

"Managing multigenerational workforces is an art in itself. Young workers want to make a quick impact, the middle generation needs to believe in the mission, and older employees don’t like ambivalence. Your move."

That’s the promo paragraph from Harvard Business School "Working Knowledge" newsletter, 17 April 2006: "Can you manage different generations?"

The article refers to recent studies that indicate that organisations (in the US – but I doubt it’s exclusive to the US) are not addressing the changing needs of multi-generational workplaces.
Here are some strategies suggested by Tamara Erickson and Bob Morison of The Concours Group, a Texas-based consulting company:

"Workers under 35
Younger workers feel much less loyalty to institutions than do older workers. They also want responsibility and expect to have input right away, whereas older workers expect people to earn their way up. Younger workers aren’t afraid to make decisions, and if you can create a strong social fabric at work, you can leverage their network-centric attitudes.
One should rapidly place younger workers into responsible roles to get the most out of these workers before they move on.

Workers between 35 and 54
This middle cohort tends to be antiauthoritarian and idealistic. They are ambitious, flexible, productive, self-sufficient, and people-oriented. On the other hand, they distrust leadership, are juggling busy lives, and demand merit-based systems and participative management. Make their work fulfilling to them, and they will move mountains; if they fail to believe in the mission, they will disengage—as 71 percent of this age group have done, according to Concours research, and become unproductive.
Middle cohort workers, today’s middle managers, may have to stay in their roles longer because the cohort ahead of them is retiring later and there are also fewer replacements coming up from below. But they will be detrimental to their organizations if they stagnate.

Workers 55 and over
Workers who are 55 and over bring an entirely different perspective, according to Concours research. They trust authority, respect rules, and are loyal to institutions. They expect people to "pay their dues" before being given authority. They place great value on financial security and may be uncomfortable with the ambiguity that is common in contemporary business. They also tend to have stronger social skills than their younger counterparts. This can, for example, make older workers ideally suited for call centers and other roles with significant customer contact.

Managers should also be sensitive to the new dynamics at work when the younger are leading the older. Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, recommends that a younger manager who has to manage older workers ask herself what it would be like to be the boss of her mother or father or to imagine how her parents would feel being led by her as a way to better understand some of the potential issues in the relationship." [ABB: this is a really frightening thought….!]

There’s a side-bar link: Tips for Managing Multiple Generations

  • Strategize by cohort: Tailor your managerial approach, and encourage the organization to craft roles, compensation, and benefits targeted at the needs of each group.

  • Communicate like a marketer: Delve into the motivators of each cohort, and use these to hone your communications—from one-on-one coaching to department or company newsletters.

  • Facilitate mentoring: Mentoring roles can provide fresh challenges to middle and older cohort workers, stimulating their productivity while also ensuring knowledge transfer and building institutional memory.

From "It’s Time to Rethink What You Think You Know About Managing People," Harvard Management Update, Vol. 11, No. 2, February 2006.

Sounds like the expectation is that each generation will need to adapt their behaviour to suit the needs of the opposing (probably the wrong word – sounds like us against them) generations – and that’s just from an everyday work place perspective!
Now – let’s add the learning perspective and we would appear to have rather ominous challenges ahead in L&D departments…that’s if we take traditional classroom models and attempt to renovate them technologies!
Now, with new (and not so new – but ignored by organisations) technologies in the social software domain, organisations have an opportunity to reignite the personal element of learning and reconnect the learner to distributed networks of people that will allow them to be more flexible and responsive to the changing demands and needs of their complex mulit-generational workplace environment!

Other posts on this weblog that may be of interest: 4 Generations in the Workplace & More on Gen-xers!