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TIPS FOR GEN Y MANAGERS WITH AN OLDER TEAM – Part One

“Older workers reporting to younger managers” is not a totally new phenomenon. But it is a growing and potentially problematic trend, as the large generation of Baby Boomers stays on in the workforce longer and the large generation of Gen Y or Millennials eager for promotion rise along with Gen Xers. They bring new management styles and often anxieties owing to lack of management experience and training.

For some guidance, young managers can look to the stories of some CEOs who were faced with the upside down reporting relationships early in their careers and happened upon a formula that became one of the pillars of their considerable business success.

Bob Pittman, chairman and chief executive of Clear Channel communications was 19 when he was given about a dozen people to manage as the programmer of a radio station in Pittsburgh. He had no idea how to manage people but realized he was functioning as a team leader. The command and control model would have been ineffective: “ When you’re 19 no one’s going to accept you as the big boss.”

He saw his job as the team leader who needed to sell his older team members on his ideas and “to keep selling them, listen really well, let everyone have a voice and to let there be some dissent.” As told to Adam Bryant for his New York Times Corner Office column that was the origin of the style he has used ever since.

Another younger manager/older workers story comes from Amy Errett, chief executive and co-founder of Madison Reed. When she was 23, she was plopped into a huge job of managing hundreds of people in a bond-processing department of a bank. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “There were all these people who had been there a really long time, and I was probably half their age. I was just terrified…Where do I even start? I set up a meeting and nobody came.”

Following her instinct, Errett learned that the essence was the relationships and trust she could develop. It was about including them. She reached out to each person and said, “I want you to tell me in the most honest way what you don’t like about your job.” In this way she started to really understand their ideas and implement those. While the first reaction from many people to that question even today in another industry is “Can I trust her?” it actually started the trusted relationship.

The next post, Part Two, will provide lessons and tips for succeeding as a younger manager with older staff and a few reminders to help the older generations in this situation.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

COUNTERPOINT: “ HOW A YOUNG BOSS SURVIVES ABUSIVE SENIOR EMPLOYEES”

A few months ago, Next Avenue (published by PBS) asked me to write an article ( “How to Survive a Young, Abusive Boss:) on what to do if you are working for an abusive younger boss. After he read the article, I received the following email from a Millennial/Gen Y boss, and I want to share his experience at the opposite end. His story is below, directly quoted from his email.

Hi Phyllis,

 What an amazing article I just had to stop and read it even though I am slammed with work. Your article somehow represent my case but the opposite.

I am a young professional employee for a Spanish media company by the name of Newspan Media Corp. www.newspan.com. I have been working with them since I was 16, now 28. I have held many positions with the company moving up. I was promoted to a Vice President position last August and since then I faced many difficulties with the senior employees. What I have noticed is time stopped at the company back in 2004-2005 when internet stormed the media. There has been no new ideas, no new innovations and company was on the edge of bankruptcy. When I was appointed to be the VP I wanted to make all the changes necessary to catch up with the social media and transform the company to digital. I think we are a little late but it is never too late to get up and start prospering again.

By implementing changes I forgot that most of the employees have been with the company since the 80-90s and not knowledgeable with the new programs. I did not want to let go of employees and hire new blood because honestly senior employees taught me a lot through the years I have been working for this company and were family to me. I began offering them classes to learn the MAC and other software but I found it hard for them to take me seriously and attend the classes at promptly time.

I called on a meeting and informed them that Newspan Media is my full responsibility and my vision to take this company to a different level is possible. I laid out to them my goals for the end of the year. As of April this year things have not been moving as fast as I scheduled and the headache of them not taking me seriously continued.

I had to come to a conclusion and hire new graduates that are well knowledgeable of the these days media. I could not afford to keep paying those huge salaries to the old employees. I did an evaluation of the company, I interviewed every single employee and questioned their daily activity. After a long week of headaches. I had to fire 13 senior employees that could not accept the fact that I am their manager. I gave them the chance to better themselves and take the company to a different level but they could not accept the fact that Ziad the maintenance kid is our boss now.

After the action was taken, now everyone at the office obeys all the orders I give them. I have hired 22 new graduates that are doing an amazing job. The company is moving forward and our 3rd quarter is looking amazing. I just wish if they worked with me instead of working against me. They made my life so stressful for a while and now they don’t have jobs.

I hope you write an article based on above and name it “ How a Young Boss Survives Abusive Senior Employees” I hope you enjoy my story as much as I enjoyed yours.

Ziad Taha  

SUCCESSION PLANNING: ACHIEVING KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER

Some companies are farther ahead than others in acknowledging the urgency of preparation to replace soon-to-be retiring highly skilled workers - and actually doing something about it. In the Preoccupations column in the Sunday New York Times Business section (August 10, 2008), Mike Begley, manager of staffing and work-force planning at Midwest I.S.O. in St. Paul, wrote about how his company is planning for succession and knowledge transfer, particularly for 80 people to fill six critical positions. The company is the independent Transmission Systems Operator that oversees the power grid for 15 states and Manitoba, Canada for 27 power companies.

The first step to implement succession and knowledge transfer is to find people to fill the positions. An incentive system was developed for employees to make referrals, with a further financial incentive if their referral is hired.

The second crucial step was to develop a program for incumbents to transfer their knowledge to new employees or people new to their positions. A self-pace apprenticeship was developed by a collaborating team of managers from training, operations, engineering and tariff administration. It consists of a detailed curriculum ending in a cetification test. Every other week an associate sits next to an employee soon to retire to watch and learn all the complex skills. The program is open to to current employees as well as new ones, and they receive full salary and benefits while training.

The company has been pleasantly surprised by the results so far. Begley said they assumed that the associates would take 18 months to finish the program. Apparently highly motivated, most did the rigorous training in six months and passed the difficult certification exam! Score one for the work ethic and ambition of the younger generations. 

"One of the hardest things for new people to understand," said Begley, "is that all the people in the control room have to work together to monitor the grid." Another example of the need for collaboration in today's highly skilled workplace.

The company is now evaluating whether to offer the retirees the option of part-time work. That issue is being explored by an "energetic intern."

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

TRANSITIONING CHALLENGE: KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER

The MetLife Mature Market Institute in collaboration with David Delong & Associates conducted a study in the first half of 2007 resulting in "Searching for the Silver Bullet: Leading Edge Solutions for Leveraging an Aging Workforce." While many more were interviewed, the study has in-depth case studies of four companies that have implemented successful programs to address changing demographics. They are: Boston Scientific, First Horizon Corporation, The Aerospace Corporation and Weyerhauser.

The study provides insights for HR managers on helping older workers successfully transfer their knowledge, implementing effective flexible work arrangements, and devising creative solutions for rehiring retirees. It points out that though companies are searching for a silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solutions, there are none. Sandra Timmermann, EdD., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, said that "What's needed is a portfolio of strategies and solutions that balance the need to retain older workers while also transferring knowledge to younger workers, so that business performance can be sustained."

The study provides valuable lessons on how to create effective knowledge sharing relationships between older mentors and younger workers and the need to make knowledge transfer an explicit part of any job when rehiring a retiree.

It seems to follow that a corollary would be training and coaching to prepare new partners and executives.

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