CONQUERING INTERGENERATIONAL CHALLENGES MEANS BUSINESS
Workplace intergenerational challenges are a puzzle and an opportunity. When I started this blog in 2006, we were still in an economic boom, and the mantras were “win the talent wars,” be “the employer of choice,” and “reinvention is the new retirement.” Demographics are still our destiny to a large extent. But the environment has changed – and will again. So we’re staying on top of the developments, trends and focused on solutions.
After almost 6 years it’s time for a renewed Welcome!!!
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Separate “Dialects” on Cultural Phenomena: Are the #Generational Disconnects Worrisome?
Frank Bruni’s recent New York Times Op-Ed column, “The Water Cooler Runs Dry,” is another story of how the ability to custom-tailor the information we keep up with is a double-edged sword. He was bewildered that his Princeton University students were totally unfamiliar with celebrities of yesteryear whom he mentioned in class.
We now customize what we read and hear to a large degree. People create their personal niches of information and exposure rather than gathering at a cross-cultural, cross-generational “water cooler” or “public square.” Common reference points are fading away. With so much specialization and almost infinite categories, a book can become a best-seller with the sale of many fewer copies than in the past before self-publishing became easier and respectable.
A Princeton colleague of Bruni’s, Hendrik Hartog, director of the American Studies program says the enormous amount of specialized knowledge “leaves an absence of connective tissue for students.” Another colleague, Daniel Rodgers, calls it the “age of fracture.
Makers of commercial entertainment don’t have to chase a mass audience and can produce programs on cable TV or alternatives with cult-like followings. While Bruni can also see some upside, he wrote, ”Each fosters a separate dialect. Finding a collective vocabulary becomes harder.”
It’s clear that’s the way things are going. Should we be worried about what is lost in translation with these diversity disconnects?
Last weekend I saw “Beyond Therapy,” a revival of a very funny early (1982) play by Tony Award winning playwright Christopher Durang. It’s about single, thirty-something big city dwellers struggling to make sense of their lives, their sexual orientations, trying to project their ideal selves, looking for love through newspaper dating ads (before match.com, etc.) and seeking help from therapists crazier than they are.
The playbill cites a December 1981 New York Magazine “Single in the City” issue that described the conditions causing the then young professionals’ angst: “the quest for fame and fortune, the sheer number of singles, the pressure to perform…the delaying of marriage for career.” References to the inability of young people to settle down and giving priority to work over marriage (or love), and statistics about educated professional single women outnumbering similar men sound eerily familiar to the Gen Y/Millennial world of today. We can even draw correlations to a down economy in the early 1980s– the second worst to recent times since the Great Depression.
Despite dramatic changes in technology, the status of women at work and demographics of the workforce in the last 30 years, it seems like déjà vu. Note that the characters in the play and described in the 1981 New York Magazine are Gen Xers and the younger Boomers.
This reinforces one reason Gen Xers (and some Boomers) are not generally sympathetic to Gen Yers. Having lived through similar experiences without having hovering parents, coaches and mentors, perhaps their attitude toward the younger generation is understandable: “We survived relying on ourselves.” “Why can’t they figure it out?” Why do they expect so much help?” Often they perceive the Gen Y/Millennials to be unfocused and uncommitted.
SOUND BITES FROM THE WISDOM OF VERY SUCCESSFUL WOMEN LAWYERS
A panel of senior (in status) Boomer and Gen X law firm partners and corporate counsel imparted, with both wisdom and humor how they mastered their career trajectories at the Women in Law Empowerment Forum’s (WILEF East) March 19, 2014 program. The women, in several cases, described how their careers evolved in surprising ways, sometimes the opposite of what they thought they wanted until they gave it a shot.
Here is a collection of sound bites (not necessarily in their exact words) from the discussion that I found both appealing and valuable for the lawyers in the audience and even beyond the legal profession/industry.
Opportunity favors the prepared.
Listen for your boss’ priorities.
Have your boss’ back so he/she can trust you.
Propose solutions; don’t just do the rote thing with an assignment.
Be your authentic self and try to assure that everyone perceives you the same way.
Never say “never.”
Don’t consider what you at first perceive as failures to be failures.
Don’t cover up mistakes. Own up to them and immediately suggest a solution.
Show you are constantly thinking beyond what is required.
Never confess (especially to a man) what you don’t know. Go find it out.
Always look for both mentors and for opportunities to mentor others.
Wisdom only comes from an accumulation of experiences.
On the theme of POWER:
People give up power by thinking they don’t have any
Men define power as control. Women define power as influence.
Assert yourself from the beginning when you negotiate compensation.
People perceive power from symbols
Project a sense of self-respect to be perceived as powerful.
Power is when people more experienced than you respond and do work for you.
Act confident and you will attain power.
Which ones resonate with you, whether you are a lawyer or not, a woman or not? Share your thoughts in comments here.
WHAT WE LEARN FROM PERU’S MULTI-GENERATIONAL CULTURES
I’ve recently returned from a trip to Peru and learned so many fascinating things about Andean culture, philosophy and how they stay happy in their multi-generational living and working arrangements. I will relate a few tidbits here along with how the U.S. is actually adopting the practices of ancient and less advanced cultures.
Some learnings from the Incas and other Andean cultures of Peru:
The central philosophy is Love, Learning and Service. Will the Boomers and Gen Y/Millennials increasingly adopt those values?
Those cultures are quite stress-free, attributed to their hard work, low desire for material goods beyond their definition of necessity and comfort.
Multiple generations live and work together by choice as well as necessity.
Women have very significant work roles.
A philosophy of “reciprocity” – today for you, tomorrow for me (which is the secret of successful networking, of course) pervades their lives.
Trial marriage is the custom in some Andean cultures. If it doesn’t work out, you can say “goodbye” and go on their way. No lawyers needed. However, if a child is produced during the trial marriage, the couple must marry.
Owing to demographics (age, ethnicity, immigrant cultures), economics and environmental conditions, the U.S. seems to be getting to be more like the Andean cultures.
Several studies reveal that Boomers are helping children and grandchildren financially. For example, a Merrill Lynch- Age Wave survey (2013) found that 62% of people age 50 plus helped family members in the last 5 years. And they’re helping with unpaid work too: grandparents care for 30% of pre-schoolers while the parents work.
Ken Dychtwald of Age Wave said, “Boomers want to be where the action is” rather than separating themselves in their living and working arrangements.
A couple living together either before marriage or with no committed intention of marriage has been growing for several decades.
Women’s work roles beyond domestic ones have been increasing.
Unfortunately, our stress levels have been increasing every year, and with our multitude of consumer goods, we are not getting happier.
Whether these trends will continue as Gen X ages and if the economy settles into a more positive pattern remains to be seen. And smart as we think we are in technological innovation, the Inca accomplishments of the 1500s are still ahead of us
For the last three years I have suggested topics on inter-generational relations at work for my externs and interns to write about, and I have published a selection of them on this blog. My extern in January 2014 was Danielle Kronenfeld, a junior at the Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School. One of the topics she chose to write about is what her generation desires in leaders. Below are my questions and Danielle’s responses.
Phyllis: What attributes are you and other Gen Y/Millennials looking for in leaders?
Danielle: I think that Gen Yers are looking for our leaders to act as mentors. We are extremely eager to learn, so we want leaders who are willing to teach us and help us grow. More specifically, we want our leaders to be intelligent and to have respect for us.
We are incredibly driven, more educated than previous generations, and probably a little bit too arrogant. This makes us believe that we have all of the solutions, despite our lack of real world experience. Of course, we do realize that we do not literally know how to solve every problem. However, our overall confidence makes it that much more important to us that our leaders have faith in our ideas and are willing to listen.
While conducting my summer internship search over the past semester, I spoke to many previous interns and recent graduates who had just started working full time. When I asked them about their favorite experience during their internship or since they started working, most of them told stories of when a senior manager invited them into his or her office to answer their questions or give them advice. Gen Yers are happiest when our leaders are willing to give us that kind of time and attention.
Phyllis:Do you think business leaders will be younger than in the past?
Danielle: Despite the fact that we like business leaders who are more experienced, I think that leaders will be younger than in the past. With the recent and continuingly rapid growth in technology, younger people are more knowledgeable and able to adapt to the most current trends.
Phyllis:What skills other than technological savvy will they have and/or need?
I think that adaptability is one of the most valuable qualities that a leader can have in today’s workplace, and one of the most distinguishing qualities that Gen Yers have mastered. Studies show that because we grew up during this time of rapid advancements, our generation is much less loyal than previous generations.
Whether it’s to our current routine in school or at work, our favorite shampoo brand, or our significant others, Millennials feels less attached to the status quo are more likely to switch to a different practice. Gen Yers are always looking for the best possible option, and are usually not afraid to leave something behind when a superior alternative comes along.
Phyllis: To our readers: Please give us your comments. Agree or disagree? What attributes do you think leaders in a Gen Y-prevalent work world will have? Will be needed?
HAS THE MISSING PIECE ELUDED YOU? – Find the Inter-Generational Solution
Generational differences in attitudes inform and influence attitudes and behaviors toward all the other types of diversity and individuals’ worldviews. They are integral, “joined at the hip,” so to speak.
If you are approaching attracting and retaining clients of different generations all the same way
If you are approaching attracting and retaining employees of different generations all the same way
If you are pitching your fundraising, member drives and engaging alumni of different generations all the same way
If you think the members of multi-generational teams all have similar wants and expectations
If knowledge transfer among generations has more speed bumps than fast lanes
then you are missing the piece that makes the ultimate difference to your long-term success rate.
Most firms treat different types of diversity as separate silos and approach their programs as if one solution fits all and will make the crucial emotional connection that is necessary for attitude and behavior change and cultural transformation.
In the last several years, many organizations have realized that something different is going on and not going away, and their personnel need to learn about generational differences. Usually they bring in a speaker (sometimes that’s me) for an hour or so to explain the basics– and then check off the box that they addressed the issues.
It’s a good first step…but for real change to occur deepening understanding, repetition and practice is necessary. Savvy organizations are undertaking yearlong or longer initiatives and community building to address inter-generational challenges locally or globally, as relevant. That type of dedicated effort will earn them an advantage in recruiting and retaining both engaged employees and loyal clients/customers.
IBM and American Express have realized how central inter-generational initiatives are to productivity in their core businesses. IBM is leveraging learning resources and building employee communities in person and online in many countries to strengthen collaboration. With surveys and other means, IBM is assessing what different generations need and is providing recommendations to business units globally on attracting, developing and retaining talent of different generations. American Express, realizing that its shift in business strategy away from travel to financial services and other technology-oriented businesses required younger demographics, also has been focusing on inter-generational challenges.
Educational institutions are getting sensitive to the large demographic changes as at least a third of their faculty and administrative staff heads toward retirement age. For example, Cornell University’s Alumni Affairs & Development department, having done some generational programming in the past, is starting on a yearlong generational focus as one of its diversity initiatives required of all colleges and administrative units by the University.
Some of the strategies to include in your cross-generational diversity initiatives are:
Small facilitated group discussions
Educational materials and interactive courses appropriate to different markets
Mutual and reverse mentoring and mentoring circles
Significant roles for senior management as advocates and participants
Knowledge transfer and succession strategies
As firms, other organizations and institutions develop affinity or employee resource groups (ERGs) or business resource groups (BRGs) and other internal and cross-cultural communities, they need to be sure to cross-pollinate them. Just as gender diversity groups focused on furthering women’s careers and as leaders greatly benefit from bringing men into the conversation, diversity and inclusion initiatives for each specific focus need to bring all the generations into the conversation. Cross-generational conversations will facilitate understanding of all the views and attitudes that must be part of the solution and the pursuit of harmonious change.
Instead of “siloing,” make the cross-generational perspective the foundation piece.
Please comment and share your thoughts. Do you see this as a business imperative?
OBSERVATION: WOMEN GRADUATE, MEN DROP OUT – AND SUCCEED BIG
Observation: Women outnumber men in college and earning graduate degrees. It’s men who drop out and seem to be the ones who start mega-successful companies. It’s not just the obvious (like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – later-half Baby Boomers). Gen Xers and Gen Y/Millennials too.
Is this a gender thing? Do we just hear less about the young female entrepreneurs? Do they, more than the men, think they need MBAs, etc. to succeed? To give them confidence to take risks? Or is it purely individualistic? Is this changing? Will more Boomer women be successful entrepreneurs in encore careers?
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. And with all the messages floating out there in the first days of the year, some of you may be feeling relief that I am not urging you to make resolutions. (If you typically do so and keep them, that’s commendable) Nevertheless I do believe in reflection and setting goals and admire commitment, determination and focus. I do urge you to be resolute.
I readily admit that I am talking to myself as much as any of you reading this, reminding myself to stay determined and focused on the big ideas I am committed to. Planning is in my DNA and fun for me. Staying with the execution takes more effort without external deadlines (which I always make) and people to hold you accountable.
So here’s my deal offer: Keep nudging me and support my determination and commitment, and I will be happy to do the same for you. Give me a call out once in a while to see how it’s going. Let me know when you’d like me to do the same for you.
It’s almost time for the ball to drop for 2014, so don’t drop the ball.
Whether yours was a lucky ’13 or not, I hope you are excited about your future. What new challenge will you take on? What problem are you determined to solve? What new skill or knowledge will you acquire? What knowledge will you pass on to a younger – or older – colleague?
In 2013 I thought big, as I developed the Cross-Generational Conversation Day concept to raise awareness of the implications of inter-generational challenges at work on business success and our lives. I am grateful for the enthusiastic reception to the concept and plans. Now in 2014, it’s time to execute! Stay tuned for our research and more information as to how you and your organization can get involved.
Since I have always been future-oriented, I look optimistically onward – but not before thanking our wonderful past and current clients, the Cross-Generational Conversation Day Planning Committee, The Cross-Generational Conversation LinkedIn Group community, social media followers, my MasterMind Group, great friends and family and YOU – my valued readers.
I urge you to light up the lives of people around you, especially in person. Start the new year with some great cross-generational conversations, and let us know if and how it changes your perspective and how you want to connect. Keep smiling, doing great work and spreading joy!
ACROSS GENERATIONS, LEADERS LACK INTERACTION SKILLS AND BEHAVIORS
A recent DDI study, Driving Workplace Performance through High-Quality Conversations, found both front-line and senior leaders lack fundamental interaction skills and behaviors required to be effective leaders. The study report concludes that what’s missing “is the ability to facilitate effective conversations, something that should be mastered by every business leader as part of a core set of interaction skills in order to build relationships and get work done.” This is at least as true of senior leaders as those with less experience according to the study.
The need to learn the skill of conversation is a challenge to the fast-paced, just get it done, data-driven world we are living in. Even some technology thought leaders are sounding the alarm. We have been champions of cross-generational conversation as necessary for business productivity and profitability since it is essential for knowledge transfer, attracting and retaining both clients and employees and enabling work teams to achieve high performance.
Organizations need to recognize that the skill of conversation is not typically part of business education, and they must require or provide training, especially as all generations increasingly communicate electronically and often neglect context.
Please comment and share information on any organizations you know are providing this training in-house. If you would like to learn about Cross-Generational Conversation Day, contact us ([email protected]).