The demographics of today's work create opportunities and challenges for business owners and managers, no matter the size of the organization. Much has been made of the conflict between Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y regarding workplace environment, attitudes towards work / life balance, reward and recognition, and opportunities for promotion. If, and where, these…
The demographics of today's work create opportunities and challenges for business owners and managers, no matter the size of the organization. Much has been made of the conflict between Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y regarding workplace environment, attitudes towards work / life balance, reward and recognition, and opportunities for promotion. If, and where, these conflicts exist leaders should view these as opportunities by tapping in to the interests and strengths of each of these groups. By surfacing their interests and strengths, leaders can begin to utilize both to grow their business.
First of all, a quick review of the interests and strengths of each of these demographic groups.
Boomers have lived a work life focused on setting goals, building plans, and driving home results. Loyalty and dedication to the organization and its work products was encouraged and rewarded. And since they are task-oriented, results-oriented, loyal, and tend to view work as their life, they spend many hours at work delivering on these work products. They see a clear distinction between work and home life, with work being what defines them – to themselves, their families, and their peers. They want to be recognized for their contribution – in the workplace – with promotional opportunities.
Generation X is focused on balancing work life with personal life. They feel they are more productive and engaged if they have time for family, friends and an interesting social life. Many of them grow up to find their boomer parents' loyalty to their companies pay off with downsizing or forced retirement – suggesting to this generation that loyalty does not pay. They are less likely to define them according to where they work or what they do at work. They are more interested in working so that they are able to buy what they want when they want. Similar to the preferences of Generation Y, they have a need for immediate recognition, being rewarded as they perform.
Generation Y values interaction with others in the workplace, but also, with their extended network of 'friends'. They feel being able to manage their social networking worlds as important as managing their workplace relationships so they want, and will take, work time to keep up their social networking relationships. Building a large network of friends and sharing all their thoughts, opinions and successes (whether business or personal) with this large network gains their view of themselves. They tend to evaluate their worth based on the size of this 'personal' network. There is little, if no, separation between work and personal life when it comes to social networking. And work is viewed as a means to deliver on a better personal life.
Given the differences in working life preferences, it is expected some conflict will arise between members of these generations, currently required to work together. However, sound leadership practices should reduce the effects of these differences and conflicts. In the Ken Blanchard Companies' 2011 Corporate Issues Survey of top management challenges, the challenge of understanding generational effects ranked tenth for the past five years of the survey. This suggests either that management is not paying enough attention to this issue or that focusing on understanding generational differences is not important enough to be considered a major challenge by the leaders who completed the survey. Whatever the reason, it is clear that challenges related to change management and creating an engaged workforce rank much higher, the two top items. This suggests other factors are more important to leaders addressing business challenges than the birth date of their employees.
Three sound leadership practices can be employed to drive up employee commitment, engagement and facilitation integration of the interests and strengths of all three generations. And the size or type of your business or organization does not matter. Sound leadership practices apply to all types of organizations.
1. Develop a sound strategy – for both the bottom line and the organization.
When management thinks about strategic development, the priority, understandably, is business growth, capturing the best methods to secure more profit for the shareholders by analyzing and scoping out the marketplace. However, sound leadership practice plans strategic development activities also take into consideration the growth and development of the organization, the infrastructure. What is the composition of the current work, demographics, expertise, competencies and what will the future strategic direction demand in terms of expertise, competencies and organizational structure? How solid is the human resource strategy to attract and retain the best and the brightest? What types of tools need to be in place to attract the right type of high performers and what will the opportunities offered to recognize and reward solid performance?
2. Develop others – build development plans into your business goals.
Strong leaders take responsibility for developing the next group of leaders for their organization. Leaders have accountability for the growth of their organization and for their organization to grow, their employees need to grow. Although there may be differences, due to life experiences, between the work / life attitudes, preferences, and characteristics of each of the three generations, sound leadership practice guarantees providing development opportunities for employees, no matter which generation. Building a training and development strategy, as part of the human resource strategy is critical. Members of all three generations seek opportunities to develop and move forward on their career path. This strategy can be as general or as specific as appropriate for the organization, but it should incorporate a variety of training methods and styles to accommodate the different training exercises preferences of these generations.
The human resource strategy should have a performance management component. Each employee should clearly understand their role in the performance of the organization and have specific goals to achieve and specific action plans to ensure they achieve the goals. Without incorporating a performance management component, the leader takes a risk that employees will not be motivated and productive. All three generations are results-oriented, products of a results-oriented society. By employing a performance management component of the workplace culture, leaders ensure all three generations are clear about expectations of performance and how they measure up to these expectations.
3. Develop Yourself – find a mentor and a successor.
The third sound leadership practice is self-development, on a continuous basis. Strong leaders recognize that for others in their organization to grow and develop, they themselves need to grow and develop. And a sure sign that the leader understands this is their commitment to seeking feedback on their own performance. Strong leaders surround themselves with other strong leaders, those who will challenge their direction, constructively, and work with them to achieve whatever goals have been set. Strong leaders understand that to continually grow, they, too, need a coach, a guide, a mentor, someone who clearly understands the strategic direction being pursued as well as the competencies of the leader pursuing this direction.
Reflection is a key skill required for self-development. Strong leaders reflect on the actions taken, what they have learned, and how to tackle the next challenge given what they have learned. Reflection is sometimes a personal action, taken individually, but leaders also need to practice reflection with the guidance and support of a mentor. Mentors are there to provide encouragement, advice and support, without judgment. With a mentor in their life, the leader has a safe place to go when under pressure, struggling with results, or just seeking someone to help clear out the cobwebs.
Sound leadership practice means knowing who to develop to take over in the future. Succession planning is a must but oftentimes, in the heat of the daily business grind or with the size of the leader's ego, it does not occur. Again, no matter what generation the leader belongs to, there will always be a requirement to name and develop a successor. At some point, the leader will move on, to another organization or phase of life, and it is imperative that their nationality (for the organization) be a strong leader to succeed them.
There will always be multiple generations of employees within the workforce. As each generation matures, their working style, preferences and characteristics may change and their working environment will continue to change, influenced by both internal and external factors. Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y employees may have varying views of the workplace and how they want to be managed, but a strong leader will quickly assess the interests and strengths of the various generations employed in their organization and realize that to effectively manage these different employee groups, sound leadership practices never go out of style.